Justin Mejia will go down as one of the best high school wrestlers in California history, even if he never steps on the mat again.
That was guaranteed when Mejia became the 22nd wrestler to capture a third title at the CIF State Championships.
But being among the best isn’t what drives Mejia, The Bee’s repeat Wrestler of the Year.
The Cougars junior wants to be second to none, even better than the only four-time champion in the 44-year history of the state tournament, former Bakersfield standout Darrell Vasquez.
“I don’t want to be just as good as him,” Mejia said. “I want to be the best wrestler that’s ever come out of California.”
And Mejia has put himself in position to do just that.
With a pin in 3:35 over Frontier’s Jaden Abas in the 120-pound final March 5 at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena, Mejia capped a second straight undefeated season at 38-0 and ran his career record to 130-1. Mejia was the 113-pound champ in 2015 and the 106 winner in 2014, becoming one of five wrestlers in history to win titles as a freshman and sophomore.
Vasquez – who won state titles at 103 pounds in 1999, 112 in 2000, 119 in 2001 and 125 in 2002 – was 201-7 in his four seasons.
“I think getting three is a pretty big deal, especially in California,” Mejia said. “But I like to set the bar high for myself, and I expect myself to get that fourth title. I don’t think most people expect to do as well as I do. That’s why I think I’m different than most people.”
Steve Tirapelle, who has coached 27 state champions in 19 seasons at Clovis, agrees that Mejia has set himself apart, but not because of the three state titles.
What separates Mejia is his age. He captured his third championship at 16 and will be 17 at the end of his senior season. Vasquez, by comparison, was 19 when he won his fourth title.
“The trend now is a lot of kids get held back and they benefit from it,” Tirapelle said. “To compete at the level he competes at, with his intensity, is incredible.
“That’s the part that amazes me the most, what he’s done and so young doing it. He’s competed in tough weight classes. He wasn’t thrown into weight classes that were horrible. The 120s this year were very good, and he dominated it.”
The last California wrestler with a shot at equaling Vazquez’s record, Selma’s Alex Cisneros, was nine seconds away from doing so when a 3-0 lead evaporated in a 5-3 loss against Gilroy’s Nikko Villarreal at 132 pounds in 2012.
Mejia prefers not to play it that close.
The Iowa commit is 16-0 in his career at the state meet. He’s earned bonus points in 12 matches, including nine pins, while helping Clovis capture team titles in 2014 and 2015 and a runner-up finish with the fourth-most points produced (232.5) this past season.
“That’s always my mindset, even when I was a little kid. I want to dominate,” Mejia said. “I don’t like winning by one or two points. I think that helps me open up matches.”
The nation’s No. 2-ranked 120-pounder by Intermat will be a marked man during his senior season.
“Some people are going to want to challenge him and try to make a name for themselves,” Tirapelle said. “If you beat someone like that, it puts you on the radar immediately, no matter what you’ve done before. So he’s going to be a huge target, but that will just keep him going. He loves to compete and challenge himself.
“He’s pretty motivated and determined. He’ll put his best effort in and whatever happens, we’ll be proud of him. He’s one of the top competitors we’ve had the privilege of working with.”
Mejia is ready for the challenges ahead – on the mat and in the stands, where fans love to see an upset.
“I know a lot of people are going to want to see me lose, or not want me to get it,” Mejia said. “But I have to stay focused and not let anything take away from my quest to get this fourth title.”
Outstanding Lower Weight: Durbin Lloren
- School: Buchanan
- Grade: Senior
- Weight class: 132
- Record: 42-2
- He’s qualified because: Became one of 39 four-time medalists in the 44-year history of the CIF State Championships, and the first to accomplish the feat for Buchanan with a second-place finish at 132. Lloren entered top-ranked in the state but got taken down early and was never able to score an offensive point in a 3-2 loss to Helix Charter-La Mesa’s No. 4 Trence Gillem in the finals. Lloren produced 27 of the 274.5 points scored by the team-champion Bears, the second-highest total ever. His season included tournament titles at the Zinkin Classic, Doc Buchanan, Mid Cals, Tri-river Athletic Conference, Yosemite Divisionals and Masters, as well as a 5-1 run at The Clash, an elite national-class dual meet tournament in Rochester, Minn., that Buchanan won. His other loss was a 7-2 decision against Tanner Litterell of Tuttle, Okla. Litterell is ranked 14th nationally and Lloren 10th by Intermat.
- What a career: Lloren went 185-23 in his four seasons, including a state championship at 120 pounds as a junior, a fifth-place finish at 113 as a sophomore and a fifth-place finish at 106 in 2013, when he became Buchanan’s first freshman medalist. “He’s not going to be remembered by his last match,” Bears coach Troy Tirapelle said. “He had an outstanding career.” Lloren has committed to NCAA Division I Utah Valley, where he is expected to wrestle at 133 pounds.
- He said it: “He was everything we needed. He’s always been able to take care of himself, but this season he was able to bring 10 to 15 kids up to his level of confidence and belief in pursuit of one common goal. He really came out of his shell and did all the things we needed him to for our team to be the best team we could be.” – Buchanan coach Troy Tirapelle.
Outstanding Upper Weight: Seth Nevills
- School: Clovis
- Grade: Sophomore
- Weight class: 285
- Record: 46-0
- He’s qualified because: Became the first sophomore to capture a CIF State Championship at 285, and the second-youngest heavyweight champion behind brother and 2011 freshman champ Nick Nevills, when he beat Christian Rebottaro of Monte Vista Christian-Watsonville 7-4. That capped an undefeated season that saw Seth Nevills win titles at the Clovis West Shootout, Zinkin Classic, Doc Buchanan Invitational, Tri-River Athletic Conference meet, Yosemite Divisionals and Central Section Masters. He helped Clovis finish second to rival Buchanan in the team race at state, scoring 30 of the Cougars’ 232.5 points, fourth-best in tournament history.
- Sensational start: Nevills, the youngest of four brothers who have all won state titles, is without a loss in his high school career. He was 44-0 as a freshman, a season capped by a pin in 3:00 of Bullard’s Bevan Brandt for the 220-pound state title, a victory that made him the second-heaviest freshman state champion behind brother Nick. Seth Nevills is the sixth wrestler in the 44-year history of the CIF State Championships to win titles as a freshman and sophomore. He’s added to a family medal haul that numbers 13, including one title for Zach, three for Nick and one for AJ. Only the Tirapelle brothers – Adam, Alex and Troy – have combined for more state titles, with eight. “He comes from a family that’s had a lot of success, and as the baby, it filters down,” Clovis coach Steve Tirapelle said. “If you come from a family that’s done it and you’ve been a part of it and you’re doing the same things as a kid, you are going to be good.” Nevills is ranked eighth nationally at 285 by Intermat.
- He said it: “He wants to be better than his brothers, so there is that internal competition within the family. He’s said from day one that he wants to beat their records and be a four-timer. Not many people can say that realistically, but I’d say he has a good shot.” – Clovis coach Steve Tirapelle.
Coach of the Year: Troy Tirapelle
- School: Buchanan
- He’s qualified because: Directed the Bears to the school’s second CIF State Championship with 274.5 points, second most in the event’s 44-year history. Tirapelle produced six finalists, including champions Matthew Olguin (106), Ethan Leake (113) and Zakary Levatino (220) and runners-up in Durbin Lloren (132), Abner Romero (160) and Anthony Montalvo (182). Four others – Brett Villarreal (fourth at 126), Joel Romero (third at 138), Greg Gaxiola (fourth at 145) and Cade Belshay (fifth at 170) – placed, giving the Bears a state record-tying 10 medalists. Tirapelle’s team, aided by assistants Gabe Flores, Yogi Leake, Donnie Rider, Dean Esquibel, Nara Sihavong and Chris Hansen, won tournament titles at the Zinkin Classic, the Clash National Duals in Rochester, Minn., Mid-Cals, Tri-River Athletic Conference meet and Yosemite Divisionals. Buchanan finished ranked fifth nationally by Intermat.
- Making his mark: After finishing his college career at Illinois in 2008, Tirapelle returned to the central San Joaquin Valley to begin coaching. Rather than joining his father, Steve, and oldest brother, Adam, at his alma mater Clovis, which has won seven state titles under the Tirapelle leadership, Troy spent two seasons as head coach at Central. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Troy Tirapelle said. “I didn’t want to jump in and be a cog in the machine.” He was hired before the 2011-12 season to restore order at Buchanan, which had fallen from state prominence after going through four coaches over a five-year stretch. That started a slow climb for Buchanan, which placed 63rd with 16 points at the state meet in Tirapelle’s first season, eighth (76.5 points) in 2013, ninth (79.0) in 2014 and fourth (120.0) in 2015.
- He said it: “Knowing you accomplished what you set out to is pretty exciting. To go from not just teaching the wrestling or cultivating the talent, but to team building and developing leaders and getting a group of different personalities to believe in one common goal, something bigger and more important than themselves, that was the most amazing part of it.” – Buchanan coach Troy Tirapelle.
The Bee’s Wrestling All-Stars
- Javier Alaniz, senior, 113, Clovis West
- Armando Barcenas, junior, 285, Hanford
- Cade Belshay, junior, 170, Buchanan
- Brandon Betancourt, senior, 106, Clovis
- Bevan Brandt, senior, 220, Bullard
- David Campbell, senior, 126, Mission Oak
- Josh Cisneros, freshman, 106, Selma
- Tyler Collier, junior, 220, Clovis
- Wyatt Cornelison, junior, 113, Clovis
- Trevor Ervin, sophomore, 195, Buchanan
- Robert Garcia, junior, 120, Selma
- Ruben Garcia, senior, 145, Selma
- Greg Gaxiola, junior, 145, Buchanan
- Josh Hokit, senior, 182, Clovis
- Gary Joint, junior, 126, Lemoore
- Chris Lane, senior, 152, Clovis West
- Ethan Leake, sophomore, 113, Buchanan
- Zakary Levatino, senior, 220, Buchanan
- Brandon Martino, junior, 152, Clovis
- Tony Mendoza, sophomore, 132, Selma
- Bobby Miguel, senior, 138, Clovis West
- Anthony Montalvo, sophomore, 182, Buchanan
- AJ Nevills, senior, 195, Clovis
- Matthew Olguin, freshman, 106, Buchanan
- Isaiah Perez, junior, 120, Dinuba
- Ryan Reyes, freshman, 170, Clovis West
- Eric Rivera, freshman, 106, Clovis North
- Abner Romero, senior, 160, Buchanan
- Joel Romero, sophomore, 138, Buchanan
- Victor Vargas, junior, 160, Clovis
- Brett Villarreal, sophomore, 126, Buchanan
- Jacob Wright, junior, 138, Dinuba