MONROVIA — Heading into Saturday afternoon’s Rio Hondo League individual wrestling finals, there was no doubt that the Hoover High wrestling program was already enjoying its greatest season ever in its fledgling three-year existence.
Yet, the Tornadoes had even more to celebrate at Monrovia High, as the squad advanced five wrestlers into divisional championship bouts, won two titles and qualified all 10 of their varsity wrestlers to the first round of the CIF Southern Section Individual playoffs.
“This was always our goal, we wanted all our kids to look forward to this day, to this tournament,” said Hoover first-year Coach Dave Beard, whose team finished with a program-best 6-2 mark and third-place team finish within league. “This has been great because we lost a lot of kids over the season and for those still here, this is an accomplishment.”
Finals champions, runner-ups and third-place finishers from the league finals, which included competitors from La Cañada, Monrovia, San Marino, South Pasadena and St. Paul, all punched their tickets to the two-day long CIF Southern Section Eastern Division Individual Wrestling Championships at Perris Citrus Hill High, which begins Feb. 21.
Hoover’s first championship came in its third attempt as Arthur Ghukasyan won a hard-fought 7-3 decision over Monrovia’s Gabriel Onofre for the 160-pound title.
Ghukasyan opened with two takedowns in the first round in leading 4-1. While Onofre pulled within two points with an escape in the opening moments of the second round, Ghukasyan landed a third takedown in building a 7-2 lead en route to the win.
“Last year, I lost a hard one and I had to win, this was my shot,” said Ghukasyan, who avenged a 7-5 defeat to San Marino’s Adam Padilla in last season’s 145-pound final. “I’m ready for CIF.”
Like Ghukasyan, Hoover’s Sebastian Ghouliance also had a year to rethink how we would approach another championship bout.
Ghouliance, who fell to San Marino’s Brian Chang at 160 pounds in last year's final, traded in his silver for gold at 170 pounds, as he held off a late charge from San Marino’s Alex Knott to win, 9-5.
“I lost my grip at the end and that’s how he was able to make a move,” Ghouliance said. “I remember losing last year and I couldn’t let it happen again.”
Ghouliance landed two reversals and a takedown in sporting a 7-2 lead after two rounds. Yet, Knott executed an escape followed by a takedown with 16 seconds left that had the Titans wrestler hoping for a late pin. Fortunately for Ghouliance, the Tornadoes veteran flipped a reversal with four seconds left to secure the victory.
In winning crowns, Ghukasyan and Ghouliance became Hoover’s second- and third-ever league champions, joining Gio Martinez, a 220-pound titlist from the 2012-2013 season.
Hoping for more upperweight glory, Hoover’s Kenny Garcia was featured in the only all-area final when the 185-pound grappler locked up with La Cañada’s Peter Garfield, who took a 4-1 advantage after one round. Garfield led, 7-1, before landing a fall at 3:40 in the Tornadoes’ final championship bout of the day.
Previously, Hoover’s David Balakeseryan fell behind San Marino’s Sebastian Mora, 4-0, after one round of their 113-pound final. Balakeseryan pulled to within 4-3 via a near fall before being pinned himself in the second round.
“I just trained as hard as I could, got our there and I tried my best,” Balakeseryan said. “I could have won, in my opinion, but my conditioning wasn’t that good and I got tired really fast.”
Monrovia’s Isaac Munguia also stopped Hoover’s Davit Nersiyan from taking a title as the Titans’ 152-pounder won his weight class with a pin in 29 seconds.
“I’m disappointed because I thought I could beat the guy,” Nersiyan said. “I got caught, but it’s OK. Last year, I did terrible, so this was cool. My goal was to go to CIF.”
Hoover also had five additional wrestlers take third place in the tournament finals and move on to the Eastern Division Individual Wrestling Championships in 132-pounder Narek Zamanyan, 138-pounder Jessie Martinez, 145-pounder Geraldy Martinez, 182-pounder Mike Sosa and heavyweight Sean Waasdorp.
The rest of the Rio Hondo League champions were La Cañada’s Alex Bache (182), Christian Tichon (220) and Guillermo Padilla (heavyweight), San Marino’s Evan Wick (120), Zander Wick (126), Julian Flores (132), Dominic Magana (138) and Aaron Padilla (145) and South Pasadena’s Harry Yun (106).