The Five Counties wrestling tournament annually brings together top programs in the sport to compete at Fountain Valley High.
Fountain Valley, for its part, has long reigned as the area’s premier wrestling program, but the Barons have been banged up recently.
For much of the week, it was a question mark as to whether the Barons would even have CIF State medalist Max Wilner grace the mat at their host event.
The junior said he had a 101-degree fever when his team competed at the Doc B Invitational at Clovis Buchanan last week, and to make matters worse, he suffered a high ankle sprain.
“At first, I wasn’t even going to wrestle,” Wilner said. “Then I was like, ‘I need to wrestle. This is my home gym. I have to go out there. I don’t want to quit.’”
The No. 2-ranked wrestler in the state for 170-pounders, Wilner gave the home fans all he could in his present condition. He weighed in more than seven pounds below weight, but he still managed to reach the final.
Wilner recorded two pins, two major decisions and a decision en route to the final.
Bellflower St. John Bosco’s Cael Valencia finally stopped Wilner in the championship bout, earning a 3-0 victory by decision.
In the semifinals, Wilner defeated Servite’s Valor Buck 5-2. He executed a single-leg technique to gain the early advantage.
Wilner now has a first-, second-, and third-place finish at the tournament in his career.
Health has not been on the side of the Barons, who had to pull out their other semifinalist in 138-pounder Luis Ramirez. Dennis Piramo, who co-coaches Fountain Valley with Brad Woodbury, said that Ramirez withdrew from the tournament with a neck injury.
Ramirez wound up placing sixth in his weight class, posting the best finish of his career at his team’s host tournament.
Zach Parker and Sean Solis, who both qualified for state at lower weights last season, both missed the tournament.
“It’s a tough time for the team,” Wilner said. “Everyone is getting banged up, but I think that our team will probably be pretty ready to go by the time league comes and CIF duals.”
Fountain Valley, which placed 11th with 92 points, also had TJ McDonnell (152) and Matthew Fee (220) advance to the second day of the two-day tournament. Both lost in the blood round, or the match to advance to the medal round.
Fee, who helped the Barons win the CIF Southern Section Northern Division championship with an individual title at 220 pounds last season, has felt the effects of wrestling with a target on his back this season.
“It’s been a lot of pressure,” Fee said. “A lot of the matches I should be winning, I’m not right now. I’m probably not working as hard as I should be.”
The Barons senior upper-weight wrestler felt that his loss in the main draw to Corona del Mar junior Emilio Franco was one of the matches that he could have won. It was considered an upset last season when Fee pinned Franco in the quarterfinals at the CIF finals.
Motivation can be found in defeat. Tournaments have humbled Franco, as he has found it difficult to find good matches in dual meets with coaches trying to avoid him in the lineup.
“I don’t get that many matches in dual meets because…coaches are trying to dodge me,” Franco said. “It just boosts my ego a little bit. I kind of like that.
“This helps me humble down a little bit, know where I’m at with higher guys.”
Back Bay rivals Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor tied for 44th place with 35 points. The Sailors were led by JJ Perez (220), who went 3-2 with three pins in the tournament.
Marina (42nd, 36 points), Edison (67th, 20 points) and Costa Mesa (70th, 14 points) were the other local teams to compete.
Mike McCoy (126) lost in the blood round for the Vikings, going 5-2 during the event. Ryan Escamilla, a 195-pounder, also made it to day two of the tournament.
Edison’s Noah Barlow (160) went 4-2, which included three pins. Jacob Iida (152) went 3-2 with a pin, a major decision and a decision accounting for his wins for the Chargers.
Hunter Windshitl led Costa Mesa, recording two pins in going 2-2 in the heavyweight division.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.