Clovis High’s Justin Mejia joined pretty exclusive company when his arm was raised in victory following the 113-pound final at the CIF State Wrestling Championships.
The nationally No. 1-ranked Mejia became only the sixth wrestler in the 42-year history of the state tournament to win titles during his freshman and sophomore seasons, accomplishing the feat with a 1-0 win over Mission Oak’s state No. 2-ranked David Campbell on March 7 at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena.
That followed Mejia’s championship at 106 pounds as a freshman.
Of the five who came before Mejia, only Bakersfield’s Darrell Vasquez would go on to become a four-time champion, the gold standard of achievements for California wrestlers.
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“I definitely want to be a four-time champion,” said Mejia, The Bee’s Wrestler of the Year. “But I’ve still got to take it one tournament at a time, one match at a time. You never know who’s coming to wrestle. I just have to keep wrestling the way I do and keep scoring points. It’s tougher to stay on top than to get to the top.”
Mejia only needs to look at the recent past to see how difficult a task it is to match Vasquez.
The most recent wrestler to win championships during his freshman and a sophomore seasons, Modesto’s Isreal Saavedra, saw his streak end as a junior this year when the No. 1-ranked 126-pounder was stunned in the quarterfinals. Saavedra went on to finish third.
The only wrestler since Vasquez to win in each of his first three seasons, Selma’s Alex Cisneros, surrendered a 3-0 lead in the match’s last 9 seconds and was upset as the state’s top-ranked 132-pounder during the finals in 2012.
The national-class Valencia twins of St. John Bosco, Zahid and Anthony, both won titles as freshmen and fell short as sophomores before winning state crowns each of the past two seasons.
Even Mejia’s own former teammate Nick Nevills, widely considered to have had one of the most dominating careers in state history, stumbled in the semifinals as a sophomore when he was the state’s top-ranked heavyweight after winning as a freshman. Nevills would finish third then go on to win state titles again as a junior and senior.
“He’s halfway there, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Clovis co-coach Steve Tirapelle, who has trained a trio of three-time champs in Nevills and his sons, Alex and Troy. “It’s a really hard thing to do. The main reason is you’ve got to be on your game every time, all the time. You can’t be sick or get hurt. You have to have ability, but there is also some luck. So many things could happen to prevent him.”
What won’t trip Mejia up is a lack of desire or confidence.
“He’s a kid who wants to be the next four-time champ and he’ll do the things it takes to give himself that opportunity,” Tirapelle said. “He’ll train, work hard in practice, and maintain his weight and conditioning. Will it work out? Time will tell, but it won’t be from a lack of believing in himself. He’s not going to go ‘Oh, I hope everything goes good.’ He’s not going to get nervous. He’s not that type of kid. He’s very relaxed and competitive, and he shines in the spotlight.”
Mejia went 44-0 as a 15-year-old sophomore, a season that saw him beat the nationally No. 20-ranked Campbell three times. His marquee victory came Jan. 17 when he edged national No. 3-ranked Jason Renteria of Illinois’ Oak Park-River Forest 4-2.
The two-time Doc Buchanan Invitational, Tri-River Athletic Conference, Yosemite Divisional and Central Section Masters champion is 92-1 in his career while helping Clovis win the past two of five straight state team titles.
“I put a lot of hard work into this,” said Mejia, who has already made an oral commitment to Iowa. “Many hours after practice, the workouts no one sees — that’s when state titles are won. I’m just staying hungry and not letting titles get to me. I just want to be the best in California.”