Nikko Reyes knows that the bull’s-eye is on his chest.
And that doesn’t bother Clovis West High’s defending 171-pound state wrestling champion in the least.
“You have to embrace it,” Reyes said of the favorite’s role. “There are going to be a lot of people gunning for you and a lot of people running from you. I feel like I can beat anyone in any match. I don’t ever wrestle any different.
“There will be some speed-bumps, and obviously there are some tough guys out there, but I don’t think anything will stop me from accomplishing my goals.”
Reyes picked up where he left off last season, going 4-0 with no match extending beyond the second period en route to being selected the home team outstanding upperweight Saturday at the Clovis West Shootout.
The Illinois-bound Reyes is one of five Central Section wrestlers aiming to repeat as a state champion this season. The others are Clovis’ Daniel Gaytan (who won at 119 pounds last season) and Nick Nevills (285); Lemoore’s Isaiah Martinez (140); and Selma’s Alex Cisneros (125). It’s the section’s largest group of returning champions since the state went to 14 weight divisions in 1996.
Gaytan helped Clovis go 6-0 to win the 11-team, dual-meet tournament title, while Nevills sat out after joining the team from football. Martinez and Cisneros were competing at the Walsh Ironman in Ohio, where they took second and third, respectively, in their weight classes.
In addition to being the hunted this season, Gaytan is one of three wrestlers — all from the Central Section — with a shot at joining the list of 25 previous four-time state medalists. Clovis teammate Zach Nevills and Cisneros are the others.
“I’m just working out and doing what I should be, putting in the work in the [wrestling] room,” Gaytan said. “I’m hoping for another good year. I look at things just like last year. Anything can happen in any match.”
Martinez was the 152-pound runner-up, while Cisneros settled for a top-three finish at 132 pounds during the Walsh Ironman, which is considered one of the premier tournaments in the nation.
Martinez reached the final with a 13-9 win over Garrett Hammond of Chambersburg, Pa. But Martinez then wasn’t able to muster a point in losing 2-0 to Bo Jordan of St. Paris Graham-Ohio.
Cisneros, who seeks to become only the second four-time champion in the 39-year history of the state tournament, dropped a 6-2 decision in double-overtime to St. Edward-Ohio’s Edgar Bright in the semifinals. Cisneros rebounded in the consolation bracket, however, and eventually defeated Blair-N.J.’s Mark Grey 3-0 for third place.
Lemoore’s Dillon Rocha went 3-2 at 132 pounds and did not medal.
Shooting for the record
Clovis launched its chase of a second straight state title — and 10th overall — in convincing fashion at the Clovis West Shootout, with its closest match a 49-21 win over Victor Valley, which is led by former Buchanan coach C.T. Campbell.
The Cougars placed six on the all-tournament team: Julian Gaytan (106), Jonas Gaytan (120), Daniel Gaytan (126), Vicente Hernandez (132), Zach Nevills (182) and Matt Weiss (220). Jonas Gaytan was the home team outstanding lowerweight.
Clovis returns six state medalists — the others are Zach Nevills (third at 171), Dakota Gordon (7th at 189), Adrian Salas (7th at 160) and Jonas Gaytan (5th at 112) — as well as nine state qualifiers and welcomes a few talented new starters such as Ryan Davies.
And with a roster as talented as that, Clovis is not only looking for another state title, but to do so with the most points ever scored in the tournament. Bakersfield holds the record, with 226.5 points in 2002. The Cougars had 186 last season.
“With this team, we’re very capable of doing that,” said Nick Nevills, who became the first freshman heavyweight state champion last season. “Each person is working hard. And we’ve got a lot of young guys pushing the older guys.”
The coaching staff of the state’s premier wrestling program makes no apologies for their pursuit of the record.
“If you don’t have goals and you don’t push yourself to reach further, you stagnate,” Clovis assistant coach Adam Tirapelle said.
“We’re trying to get the most out of every single kid. If that results in a record, great. If not, at least every single kid pushed as hard as they can go.”
In addition to Reyes, Clovis’ Zach Nevills and Davies have also made their college choices.
Both are going to Stanford.
Nevills — who was the heaviest freshman ever to medal when he placed fifth at 171 in 2009, a record later eclipsed by his brother Nick — has already signed with the Cardinal.
Davies has given an oral commitment and was recently accepted into the Pac-12 school academically.
Reyes, meanwhile, is excited to be headed to Illinois, where he said he would redshirt his freshman year.
“I’m looking forward to getting to that level,” Reyes said. “The Big Ten to wrestling is like the SEC of football.”