At the outset of the season, Fountain Valley High was marked as a contender for the CIF Southern Section Division 3 dual-meet crown.
Two weeks ago, the Barons suffered a tough one-point defeat to Riverside Hillcrest in the semifinals of the CIF Dual-Meet wrestling championships.
The Barons were not satisfied with the result. Nico Damschen, the team’s 170-pounder, vowed then that his team would come back strong in the CIF individual wrestling championships.
Fountain Valley fulfilled the prophecy on Saturday, as the Barons defeated host Perris Citrus Hill 201-179.5 for the Northern Division championship.
Freshman Sean Solis (106), sophomore Max Wilner (160) and junior Matthew Fee (220) won individual titles for Fountain Valley, which also won a team title at the CIF individual wrestling championships in 2015.
“I wanted to carry on the tradition,” said Dennis Piramo, who succeeded Brad Woodbury as the Barons’ head wrestling coach this season. “I knew that we had a tough team. I knew that we always had a possibility of winning it, but the kids came out and performed today. They’ve got to wrestle on the mat, so they definitely deserve all the credit.”
Fee provided the surprising run through the tournament that helped lead the Barons down the road to victory. He defeated the first, second, fourth and fifth seeds in his weight class. He pinned Moorpark’s Anthony Gomez with a cradle move in the final.
“It’s kind of like a Cinderella story,” Fee said. “I went from nothing to first. I wasn’t seeded.
“It was pretty great. I’m ecstatic. My goal was to make day two, and I won.”
Fee’s underdog story elated his teammates and Piramo, who launched himself into the arms of assistant coach Alex Damschen when Fee won his championship bout.
“Matt Fee is definitely our team’s MVP,” Piramo said. “To beat the four, five, one and I believe the number two [seed] in the finals with a pin, that’s unprecedented. That’s the kind of stuff that wins team titles.”
Solis started the medal round off right for the Barons, defeating Valencia’s Jake Quintana by a 7-3 decision.
As difficult as it can be to win a CIF title, it was not as tough for Solis as wrestling against his teammates. Before the Sunset Conference finals were held to determine the CIF qualifiers, a wrestle-off was held between Solis and Kade Ayres for the right to wrestle at 106 pounds.
“It made the season more nerve-wracking than it should have been, with the wrestle-off,” Solis said. “I just wanted to win [the CIF title] for the team because the team title was on the line.”
The Barons would go on to win six of their seven matches in the medal round.
Wilner repeated as an individual section champion after winning a CIF title at 145 pounds last season. He was named the upper-weight MVP of the tournament after winning all of his matches by fall.
“Last year, it was a goal of mine to win CIF,” Wilner said. “I accomplished that, but I wasn’t satisfied with the way that I finished.
“Here, I was more dominant. I’m in a new weight class. With all the hard work that my coaches have been putting into me, that reflects their work and their time.”
Fountain Valley topped all teams in the Northern Division with seven Masters Meet qualifiers. The others were Zach Parker (113, fifth), Luis Ramirez (145, second), Nico Damschen (170, third) and Christian Zeglinski (285, fifth).
The Masters Meet will be held at Cerritos College next Friday and Saturday. In order to qualify, wrestlers had to finish in the top five of their weight class, with a handful of exceptions. A sixth qualifying position was allocated for the 126-, 152-, 160-, 195-, and 220-pound weight classes.
Newport Harbor’s Miguel Licona had to win his fifth-place match at 182 pounds. He went to overtime with Fillmore’s David Rivas, and he secured a takedown near the boundary to win it.
“It seriously doesn’t come down to who is better,” Licona said. “It just comes down to who has the most heart and who wants it more.
“I have the biggest shovel. Nobody can dig deeper than I can.”
Licona will be joined by his teammate Austin Osumi, who placed fourth at 195 pounds.
Marina’s Danny Escamilla made the heavyweight final, but he appeared to sustain a left shoulder injury before being pinned by San Jacinto’s Arturo Ojeda.
Vikings junior Mike McCoy earned a narrow 2-1 decision over Corona Santiago’s Troy Tadros in the 120-pound third-place match.
The other local wrestlers to qualify for the Masters Meet were Edison’s Jacob Iida (152, fifth) and Corona del Mar’s Emilio Franco (220, third).