The four-time watch – California high school wrestling’s rarest and most coveted individual accomplishment – is on.
Clovis’ Justin Mejia became the fourth competitor in the 44-year history of the CIF State Wrestling Championships to win titles at the end of his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons with his domination of the 120-pound bracket Friday and Saturday at Rabobank Arena.
Only Bakersfield’s Darrell Vasquez (1999-2002) has been a four-time champion of the nation’s largest and toughest state high school wrestling tournament.
“I’m so happy,” Mejia said. “I’m just going to keep on working hard and get one more. I’ve got to keep taking it one match at a time and not overlook anyone.”
Mejia was one of nine state champions crowned during a banner tournament for the Central Section, which produced six runner-up finishes and 35 medalists overall.
Three other Cougars captured state gold – Josh Hokit at 182, AJ Nevills at 195 and Seth Nevills at 285 – as did team champion Buchanan’s Matt Olguin (106), Ethan Leake (113) and Zakary Levatino (220), Mission Oak’s David Campbell (126) and Bakersfield’s Navonte Demison (138).
Buchanan’s Durbin Lloren (132), Abner Romero (160) and Anthony Montalvo (182), Dinuba’s Jacob Wright (138), Selma’s Ruben Garcia (145) and Frontier’s Jaden Abas (120) won silver medals as section wrestlers earned 15 of 28 berths in the finals.
But the spotlight belonged to Mejia, who became the state’s seventh freshman champion when he won at 106 in 2014, then won at 113 last season.
The last wrestler to win state titles in each his first three seasons – Selma’s Alex Cisneros – suffered a stunning takedown and near fall by Gilroy’s Nikko Villarreal in the final 10 seconds of the 132-pound final in 2012 to turn a 3-1 lead into a 5-3 loss.
“If you win that first one as a freshman, everyone thinks you can win three more,” Mejia said. “But it’s not easy. I’ve just got to stay relaxed and not over-think things.”
Mejia entered the championships top-ranked in California and as high as No. 2 nationally by Intermat.
Then he leveled the field in Bakersfield.
Mejia opened the tournament with three consecutive pins, then put a 25-8 tech fall on Northern Section champion Yonathan Esquivel of Orland in the quarterfinals late Friday. Mejia edged section rival Robert Garcia of Selma 5-1 in Saturday morning’s semifinals, then pinned Frontier’s Abas in 3:35 during the final on the elevated stage in the middle of Rabobank Arena.
Abas became the only wrestler to take down Mejian this season during the Central Section Masters on Feb. 27, a match Mejia won by tech fall 16-4.
“I wasn’t expecting a fall,” said Mejia, who is 135-1 in his career. “But I stayed in good position and caught him on his back.”
Mejia finished 38-0, one of only two wrestlers in the state to end the season undefeated. The other was teammate Seth Nevills, who capped a 46-0 sophomore season with a 7-4 victory over Monte Vista Christian-Watsonville’s Christian Rebottaro in the 285-pound final.
Rebottaro scored first, becoming the only wrestler from California to take down Nevills this season. But Nevills rallied for a 3-2 lead by the end of the first period and weathered a second Rebottaro takedown to win his second state title.
Nevills became the second heaviest freshman state champion last season when he won at 220 pounds. Only older brother and current Penn State standout Nick Nevills won at a heavier weight as a freshman, taking the gold medal at 285 in 2011.
Seth Nevills, the youngest of four Nevills brothers who have combined for seven state individual championships, had two pins and two other decisions over the weekend to run his career record to 90-0.
Older brother Nick was widely considered a threat to become a four-time state champion, but was upset in the semifinals during his sophomore year and had to settle for third place before going on to win two more titles.
“It’s been one of my goals to be a four-time champion,” Seth Nevills said. “This was a milestone to get out of the way. This is something that’s really amazing and I’m going to appreciate it. I won’t take it for granted. I will keep working harder and harder.”
Hokit and AJ Nevills each captured their first state titles and third medals overall after finishing as the runners-up at 170 and 182, respectively, last season.
Hokit, a senior headed to Drexel where he will join older brother Isaiah, earned his third state medal with a 10-3 win over Buchanan’s Montalvo.
State No. 1 Hokit beat No. 3 Montalvo for the fifth time this season.
“I’ve worked all my life for this,” said Hokit, who finshed 46-2 with no losses to California opposition. “I’ve dreamed of being on that mat since I was little, and I’ve dreamed of winning. This was my year. I got it done. It’s the best feeling to know all my hard work paid off. You sacrifice all year and this is the reward, that state title.”
No. 1-ranked AJ Nevills joined brothers Zach, Nick and Seth as a state champ with a 6-1 defeat of Poway’s No. 2 Chris Bailey in the final. AJ Nevills didn’t give up an offensive point while going 5-0 at the state meet, also scoring three pins and a major decision.
AJ Nevills, a senior who will join Nick at Penn State next season, finished the season 45-4 and 138-29 in his career.
“It’s good to join the family (in winning a state title,)” AJ Nevills said. “It’s something I’ve been working for since I knew about it. All my hard work came to this conclusion.”
No. 2-ranked Campbell delivered the first state championship in Mission Oak history during his second trip to the finals, beating De La Salle-Concord’s No. 8 Donovin Guerrero 6-3 for the 126 title.
“I’m excited,” Campbell said. “I had that drive to get back here and win that state title.”
Campbell was third at Masters and sixth at divisionals, but finished first in the state to cap a 35-3 season and 157-27 career for the Hawks.
“I just kept working hard, fixing the little mistakes,” said Campbell, who was the state runner-up at 113 last season and fourth at 106 in 2014. “The coaches were there for me and I just stuck to business.”
At 138, Wright became the first state finalist in Dinuba history but fell short of the school’s first title when Demison won by pin in 1:00. Wright’s only losses in a 37-3 season came against Bakersfield’s Demison, 6-5 in the final of the Temucula Valley tournament and 3-1 in overtime in the Masters final.
Wright, ranked fourth in the state, upset No. 1 Julian Flores of San Marino 3-2 in the semifinals.
Selma’s No. 2 Garcia dropped an 8-5 decision to top-ranked Zander Wick of San Marino in the 145 final. It was Garcia’s third state medal, following sixth-place finishes at 138 and 132 the past two seasons.
Garcia, a two-time Masters champion, finished the season 49-2.
CIF STATE WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
BREAKING DOWN CHAMPION THE CHAMPION
Buchanan High captured the school’s second state championship with 274.5 points, the second-most ever scored in the 44-year history of the state meet. Here’s how each of the Bears’ 13 qualifiers contributed.
106: Matt Olguin, 6-0, 1st, 32.5 points
113: Ethan Leake, 6-0, 1st, 31.5 points
120: Chris Gaxiola, 1-2, DNP, 1 point
126: Brett Villarreal, 6-2, 4th, 28 points
132: Durbin Lloren, 5-1, 2nd, 27 points
138: Joel Romero, 5-1, 3rd, 19 points
145: Greg Gaxiola, 7-2, 4th, 20 points
152: Jake Levatino, 2-2, DNP, 5 points
160: Abner Romero, 4-1, 2nd, 27 points
170: Cade Belshay, 6-2, 5th, 18 points
182: Anthony Montalvo, 4-1, 2nd, 27.5 points
195: Trevor Ervin, 3-2, DNP, 10 points
220: Zakary Levatino, 6-0, 1st, 28 points
285: No qualifier