Zach Zimmer and James Cook have each stood on the ultimate stage for a high school wrestler in California, the raised mat under the spotlight inside Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena, home of the CIF State championships.
Their drive for a return appearance on that stage was on display Saturday as the seniors from Clovis West and Madera highs, respectively, were named the outstanding lower weight (Zimmer) and upper weight (Cook) wrestlers of the Yosemite Divisional Championships at Buchanan.
Zimmer won the 119-pound division with an 8-2 decision over Clovis East's Patrick Phaysamone, capping a title run that also featured two pins and two technical falls.
"I feel pretty good about the year so far," said Zimmer, a two-time state medalist who dropped a 5-4 decision to Washington's Gilberto Camacho in the 103-pound state final in 2008. "It's a matter now of staying healthy and focused on winning that state title. This is a stepping stone. I've definitely got to be proud of winning [Divisionals.]"
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
Cook, who was slowed for a couple of weeks by a hamstring injury, earned a 9-2 decision over Clovis' Zach Nevills in the 171-pound final.
Cook, Zimmer and all of the other wrestlers who qualified to compete in the Central Section championships in Lemoore need a top-seven finish out of 10-man brackets next Saturday to advance to the state meet, scheduled for March 5-6.
"I'm pretty driven," said Cook, who lost 3-2 against Vista-San Diego's Anthony Meza in the 152-pound state final in 2008. "My biggest memory in high school is losing in the state championship by one point. I don't want to end my senior year without being on top. It's a great motivator."
Other Yosemite champions included Frontier's Vincent Gomez (103), Clovis North's Vince Rodriguez (125), Porterville's Shane Yacuta (130), Buchanan's Spencer Hill (135), Bakersfield's Timmy Box (140), Bakersfield's Coleman Hammond (145), Lemoore's Nick Sierra (152), Clovis West's Nikko Reyes (160), Clovis' Tommy Burriel (189), Bakersfield's Brian Schoene (215) and Madera's Luis Contreras (285).
Clovis wins team title
The Cougars qualified a section-best 12 wrestlers to the section finals while topping Bakersfield 281-238 for the Yosemite Divisional team title.
While Burriel was Clovis' only champion, it received second-place finishes from Daniel Gaytan (112), Brady Bersano (140) and Nevills (171), and third-place efforts from Jonas Gaytan (103), Sonny Cervantes (130), Tyler Ceremello (160) and Taylor Ferguson (215).
The Cougars' quest for a ninth state team title, however, will not include defending state medalists Alec Dieter and Clinton McAlester, who have each left the team for personal reasons.
"Losing those wrestlers makes it a little harder," Burriel said. "It will be tough, but we should still be able to do it."
Led by 152-pound champion Josue Torrones, Washington advanced eight wrestlers to the section finals while winning the tournament at Shafter.
Torrones, a freshman, beat Bakersfield Christian's Brad Fulce 4-0 to become the Panthers' only champion as they outscored Exeter 196-180 to win the team title. Selma was third, Wasco fourth and Kingsburg fifth. Complete results were not available as this edition of The Bee went to press.
Washington started the day with 11 wrestlers alive, four in the semifinals and seven in the consolation round. All 11 placed. David Rico was a runner-up for the Panthers at 103 pounds.
"There are times you win a title with five really good kids, but this was a team effort," Panthers coach Ryan Stockton said. "Everyone had to come through. It was a matter of having an unbelievable day today."