High wrestling co-Coach Joe Gallardo wasn’t sure if any Titan has ever won a
Southern Section Division Individual title coming into the final day of the Eastern Division tournament.
Either way, San Marino added three division champions to its resume at Oak Hills High Saturday. All three of the Titans' state-ranked freshmen – twin brothers Evan and Zander Wick and Julian Flores – won their respective weight classes.
"I don't know that it's happened," Gallardo said of any previous division champions from San Marino. "All I know is the last time one got to state was in 1978, but I don't know if they were a champion or not."
It wasn't just the youngsters who moved on to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet, which is qualified for with a top-five finish at the division round, as senior 160-pounder Brian Chang placed fifth to give San Marino five Masters wrestlers.
San Marino finished eighth as a team overall in the tournament with 118 points.
"It's kind of surreal in a way, they work hard to get here but to actually be here in the moment is pretty exciting," said Gallardo, whose wrestlers are poised to advance even further. "Most likely they should go to state, that's what we're hoping for. They're looking good and providing no injures they have a really good chance of going to state."
While it was a banner day for San Marino, it was a heartbreaking one for South Pasadena – particularly Albert Estrada (152). The senior went into Saturday undefeated in the tournament, but saw his season and high school career end with three losses on the day.
"We had a really rough day, but we learned a lot and hopefully it will help us get better for next year," said South Pasadena Coach Al Shuton, who had three wrestlers advance to the second day of the tournament.
As the top seeds, Evan and Flores won their championships and all four or five matches with relative ease. For third-seeded Zander, his championship came in an overtime 8-6 victory over top-seeded Trent Smith of Sultana in the 126-pound championship match.
"It makes it a cooler story, but during the match it puts a lot more stress on you," Zander said of winning in overtime. "I try to keep pretty calm throughout my match. If you get too stressed out and think about what's bad that can happen you're going to lose. If you think positive things and go out there and actually try to win, you're going to win."
Winning as the third seed was special to Zander, who almost as dramatically knocked off Montclair's Daniel Romero, 1-0, via a locking-hands penalty in the second period in the semifinal round.
"I'm a little smaller than everybody else since I bumped up and I haven't really cut weight this year," he said. "Everyone thinks they're just going to overpower me, but I am really strong for my size and I can just power through whatever they try to do. They always underestimate me."
Evan's 113-pound championship came in very convincing fashion. He picked up a pair of technical falls and a pinfall victory Friday before shutting out Citrus Hill's Anthony Vargas in the semifinals, 9-0. The freshman then defeated Beaumont's Eric Reyes, 10-4, for the title.
Evan got the first takedown early in the match for a 2-0 lead and worked a tilt in the final few seconds of the first period for a 4-0 advantage.
"I think that really sealed the deal," Evan said of the tilt. "It got me feeling really confident in that match."
Evan knows Masters won't come anywhere near as easy as the division tournament did, but he's definitely not planning on having his season end anytime soon.
"It feels good [to win a division championship]," he said. "It was a little bit of a weight on me, so it was really good to win it and put some points on the board for the team. … There's not going to be a lot of guys now I'm going to be able to work in State Championships and Masters, so it's going to be tough. Hopefully, I can win Masters and go to state."
Following a run to the 120-pound championship in which he won all four matches via pinfall – three in the first period, Flores said he's not letting the success go to his head for Masters.
"I don't take it as, I won CIF I'm the best, I just take it as the next step and try to win Masters and qualify for state," he said. "It's in the past now."
Flores' greatest test came in the semifinals Saturday when he didn't pin Victor Valley's Hector Ruvalcaba until the 1:15 mark of the final period. He followed that up with a pin of Oak Hill's Michael Santiago with nine seconds left in the first period of the championship match.
It took a while for Flores to work in a half-nelson after getting Santiago to the ground, but once he had it, the bout was quickly over.
"I was fighting for that for about 30 seconds and I finally got the half," he said. "As I got it, I just turned and ran through it and pinned him with like 10 seconds left."
While Chang qualified for Masters when his opponent for the fifth-place match forfeited, he wasn't about to complain.
"It's an enormous sense of accomplishment," said Chang, a senior. "All these years of wrestling, I've always made it to CIF but never made it to Masters before."
After losing his final match Friday, Chang had a hard road to get back into Masters contention. He started Saturday with a 9-1 victory over Silverado's Emmanuel Sanchez and followed it with a narrow 3-2 win over Oak Hill's Shawn Elder. Chang was knocked off by Beaumont's Ulysses Ramirez with a chance to advance to the third-place match, 10-5.
He ended the day with his hand raised after Antelope Valley’s
"I have never been very close to making Masters at all because I was wrestling at 180 before," said Chang, who dropped to 160 late this season. "That helps tremendously with the size of my opponents. … It was pretty simple for me [to cut], just dieting and working out. It wasn't a lot of stress for me because I could see the results immediately when I was dropping weight classes."
Estrada opened Saturday with top-seeded Frank Francis of Hesperia and fell, 7-0, in the semifinals. He then just fell to Fountain Valley's Nathan Bazan, 9-6, with a trip to the third-place match on the line. The Tigers senior lost in even more devastating fashion to Los Alamitos' Ryan Spradlin in the fifth-place match with a trip to Masters on the line.
"I just tell them this is a life lesson and this is part of the experience of growing up," Shuton said of what he told Estrada at the end of the day. "More or less, you win some, you lose some, but those that want to do better learn from their mishaps and hopefully try to do better on the next opportunity."