Improvement is on the minds of 10 of 25 high school wrestlers from the region entered in the state finals today at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
That's how many have qualified for a second consecutive year for the two-day meet at spacious Spanos Center. Yet, only a handful stand a realistic chance of becoming the first wrestler from the region to win a state title in 13 years.
Heading the list are seniors Cristobal Gonzalez of Ventura at 189 pounds and heavyweight Chad Troxler of Simi Valley, who both placed third last season and return at the same weights.
"I look forward to going back and doing better than last year," said Troxler, who has a school-record 130 victories in three years. "I might as well get first."
Troxler (50-5), who will wrestle against Julius Askew of San Fernando in a first-round match, faces a division among the strongest of 14 weight classes.
State champion Hector Torres of Rosemead and runner-up Billy Widler of Anderson return.
Troxler, a two-time Division II champion, is winless in three matches against Torres--two of which were decided by one point--and was defeated by Widler, 2-1, in overtime in the second round of the state meet last season.
By beating Askew (23-7), Troxler likely will face a second-round match against Fred Aquitania of Fairfield, who placed fourth last season.
"I have the tough side of the bracket," Troxler said. "But if I wrestle smart, I think I can win it. It's a matter of who makes mistakes."
Gonzalez (51-3), eighth in the state as a sophomore, has the strength and experience to dominate. His most formidable opponent figures to be senior Mike Bigrigg of defending state champion Santa Ana Calvary Chapel.
Bigrigg defeated Gonzalez, 5-4, in the final of the Masters meet. A week earlier, Gonzalez defeated Bigrigg, 4-2, for the Division I championship.
Dustin Clocherty of Ventura (47-2), Division I and Masters champion at 135 pounds, placed eighth at 130 last season and is among the favorites this weekend.
Senior Ralph Lopez of Clovis West, state champion at 135 last season, will compete at 140.
Stuart Young of Highland (52-6), a two-time Division IV champion at 152 pounds, enters with a school-record 196 victories. Young was 3-2 last season at the state meet but did not place among the top eight.
Among 14 City Section entries, senior Franky Valdez of Chatsworth, a four-year varsity wrestler, appears strongest. Valdez (44-3) has 31 pins at 189 pounds and was 1-2 at the state meet last season.
Four San Fernando wrestlers--Richard Aguirre at 103, Joe Hernandez at 119 and twins Andy at 130 and Eddie Moro at 135--return. Andy Moro is making his third trip to the state finals. All four were eliminated last season on the first day of competition.
Not since 1985, when Miller Aupiu of Channel Islands won at 175 and Keith Harvey of Newbury Park won at 119, has an area wrestler won a state title.
No wrestler from the region has reached the final round since Ventura's Scott Adams at 189 and John Jimenez at 119, and Thousand Oaks' Jack Artman at 145 accomplished the feat in 1992.
No City representative has won a title in the 25-year history of the state finals. Greg McMurray of El Camino Real placed fifth in 1988, the best performance of a City wrestler.
The tournament begins today at 8 a.m. and concludes with the final round Saturday at 7 p.m. A total of 448 wrestlers are entered.