Troy Tirapelle vividly remembers the excitement of the 1996 CIF State Wrestling Championships.
In a spirited battle that produced a tie for the closest team race in the 43-year history of the state meet, Calvary Chapel-Santa Ana edged Independence-San Jose by half a point for the title, with James Logan-Union City two points back.
Friday and Saturday at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena, Tirapelle’s Buchanan High Bears and his father, Steve Tirapelle’s, Clovis Cougars are expected to wage a similarly fierce and closely contested battle.
The Cougars enter the tournament top-ranked in the state by The California Wrestler while the Bears are No. 2, each possessing the firepower to surpass the 200-point plateau reached only three times (Clovis in 2015 and 2012; Bakersfield in 2002) since the state meet expanded to 14 weight classes and eight medalists (up from 13 and six, respectively) in 1990.
“It makes the entire tournament more fun for everyone, not just Buchanan people or Clovis people, when each and every match affects the team race,” Troy Tirapelle said. “Clovis has had some runaways the past couple of years, and it takes the excitement from the arena. But when it’s close, not only are your kids trying to win for your team, but other kids want to be the ones who crush someone’s dream.”
After playing second-fiddle to Buchanan all season, defending state champion Clovis reasserted itself last week by winning the Central Section Masters tournament for the ninth straight season, outscoring the Bears 270-245 while advancing all 14 of its wrestlers to state.
Buchanan, which had finished ahead of Clovis at the Zinkin Classic, Doc Buchanan Invitational, Tri-River Athletic Conference finals, Yosemite Divisionals and during a TRAC dual, qualified 13 to state.
“The only weeks we have been as focused as this was the dual against Clovis and when we went back to Minnesota (for The Clash),” Tirapelle said. “Those were great things, but the climax of our season is a state championship. We wanted to run through unscathed and that didn’t work out. But we can still accomplish what we wanted to. We hold our own destiny in our hands, and you can’t ask for more than that.”
Buchanan, which captured its only state team title in 2006, features eight wrestlers ranked among the state’s top eight, including the No. 1 132-pounder Durbin Lloren, a senior who was last season’s 120-pound state champion; freshman and No. 2-ranked 106-pounder Matt Olguin; and senior and No. 2-ranked 160-pounder Abner Romero, who placed seventh at 152 last year.
Clovis has seven top-eight wrestlers, including No. 1’s in junior two-time state champ Justin Mejia at 120, senior Josh Hokit at 182, senior AJ Nevills at 195 and sophomore Seth Nevills at 285. Hokit and AJ Nevills were state runners-up at 170 and 182 last season, while Seth Nevills became the second-heaviest freshman champion in state meet history (behind only his heavyweight older brother Nick) when he won at 220.
“I think it’s going to be a very competitive weekend for both groups,” Clovis’ Steve Tirapelle said. “Our kids are ready and prepared. I like our kids’ chances. I think we’ll perform well under the pressure, but it’s the state championships. Anything can happen.”
The elder Tirapelle foresees as tight a team fight as the one his team experienced in 2011, when the Cougars edged reigning champ Bakersfield 186-177 in a race that wasn’t decided until No. 2-ranked Daniel Gaytan beat top-ranked Stevan Knoblach of Clovis West in the 119-pound final.
Clovis has gone on to post four of the six largest margins of victory in state meet history, including a 127-point rout in 2012, while racing to its current record streak of five straight and a state-best 13 overall.
“They had a good team and we had a good team, and we ended up outlasting them in the end,” Tirapelle said. “I expect a similar thing. We’ll go back and forth, and it could come down to the last match of the evening. We expect a tight contest and I think our kids will compete until the very end.”
CIF STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Friday: 9 a.m.; quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday: 9 a.m.; semifinals at 9:30 a.m.; consolation medal matches at 12:30 p.m.; finals at 7 p.m.
- Site: Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield
- Admission: $8 to $25
Quest for gold
Clovis and Buchanan high schools enter the 44th CIF State Wrestling Championships as the top team title contenders. Here’s a breakdown of their lineups, along with state ranking by The California Wrestler.
CLOVIS (14 qualifiers)
- 106: Brandon Betancourt, Sr., No. 4
- 113: Wyatt Cornelison, Jr., No. 5
- 120: Justin Mejia, Jr., No. 1
- 126: Brandon Rhoades, So., No. 30
- 132: Jordan Geiger, Jr., No. 24
- 138: Dylan Martinez, Sr., No. 10
- 145: Jake Ladd, Sr., No. 21
- 152: Brandon Martino, Jr., No. 3
- 160: Victor Vargas, Jr., No. 10
- 170: Ruger Wyneken, Jr. No. 11
- 182: Josh Hokit, Sr., No. 1
- 195: AJ Nevills, Sr. No. 1
- 220: Tyler Collier, Jr., No. 14
- 285: Seth Nevills, So., No. 1
BUCHANAN (13 qualifiers)
- 106: Matt Olguin, Fr., No. 2
- 113: Ethan Leake, So., No. 3
- 120: Chris Gaxiola, So., No. 19
- 126: Brett Villarreal, So., No. 10
- 132: Durbin Lloren, Sr., No. 1
- 138: Joel Romero, So., No. 11
- 145: Greg Gaxiola, Sr., No. 3
- 152: Jake Levatino, Jr., No. 13
- 160: Abner Romero, Sr., No. 2
- 170: Cade Belshay, Jr., No. 3
- 182: Anthony Montalvo, So., No. 3
- 195: Trevor Ervin, So., No. 6
- 220: Zakary Levatino, Sr., No. 11