The survive-and-advance stage of the wrestling season began on Saturday.
In the Sunset Conference finals, competitors needed to finish in the top four of their respective weight class to advance to the CIF Southern Section Individual wrestling championships.
No one did it better than host Fountain Valley, which qualified 12 out of a possible 14 wrestlers for the postseason.
The scene will now turn to Perris Citrus Hill High, where the Sunset Conference qualifiers will compete in the Northern Division wrestling championships next Friday and Saturday. The meet will determine divisional champions, as well as provide the qualifiers for the CIF Masters Meet.
Sophomore 152-pounder Dylan Zotea had the experience of making a deep CIF run to the Masters Meet as a 126-pound wrestler last season. He returned to the mat on Saturday after sitting out the past month and a half of action with a right knee injury.
Zotea won his second league title, posting a pair of major decisions.
“This past month and a half, it’s been so hard watching all of my teammates and everyone wrestle,” Zotea said. “I wanted to get out there so bad, especially at the [CIF Duals] because it was so close.”
Zotea returned a week after his team lost to Riverside Hillcrest 33-32 in the semifinals of the Division 3 dual-meet tournament. He will now have the chance to help his team in its pursuit of a Northern Division title at CIF Individuals.
“I felt good,” Zotea said of his return. “I’m not satisfied at all. I feel I could have done a lot better. Coming back, I feel healthy, I feel strong, I feel fast, and that was not the best I can do.
“I’m waiting for CIF. I’m for sure going to do a lot better than I did here. It can only get better from here.”
Sean Solis (106), Zachary Parker (113), Luis Ramirez (145), Max Wilner (160) and Nico Damschen (170) also won league titles for the Barons, all of them winning their final by fall.
Wilner and Zotea were repeat league champions.
Marina’s Mike McCoy became the ranking member of the league with respect to league titles, as he won his third in three seasons. The junior 120-pounder reversed the fortunes of an old family rivalry, as he pinned Fountain Valley freshman Kade Ayres in the first period.
“I just wanted to flip the switch on the Ayres [family], and it turned out well,” said McCoy, who had watched Karson Ayres beat his older brother, John, in the Sunset League finals and CIF finals in 2017.
McCoy will have a chance to win a league title in every year of his high school career. He said he was already thinking about the possibility of winning his fourth, a feat that was accomplished by Karson Ayres.
“It means a lot,” McCoy said of his third individual league crown. “I have a lot of respect for Kade Ayres, for bumping up two weight classes, to wrestle me. I’m just honored to be a three-time league champ.”
Marina senior Danny Escamilla, a heavyweight, also earned his first league title with a first-period pin.
The Sunset Conference was divided up into the Surf League and the Wave League for regular-season dual meets. Newport Harbor showed why it was a worthy champion of the Wave League.
Seniors Miguel Licona (182) and Austin Osumi (195) won their first individual league titles in their final season with the Sailors.
“It was amazing because that was our goal since freshman year,” Licona said. “This year, since both of us didn’t get it [before], I said, ‘Last year, we’ve got to take home the gold.’
“We did it together. We both accomplished our goal, but this is only the beginning. We still have CIF, Masters and state. This is only the beginning.”
In his first year on varsity, Corona del Mar upstart sophomore Emilio Franco also pulled through to win the 220-pound title.
“This is just the beginning, but I feel like I’m ready,” Franco said. “I had a super good season, and I’m thankful because it’s not over yet, and I get a chance at CIF.
“If I qualify at that, then I’ve got a chance at Masters for state.”
Sunset Conference wrestling finals
Top four qualify for CIF Individuals
106 – Solis (FV) pins Dougherty (FV), 0:17.
113 – Parker (FV) maj. Uyekawa (LA), 11-2.
120 – McCoy (Mar) pins Ayres (FV), 1:18.
126 – Sylvia (LA) pins Jones (NH), 3:39.
132 – Anderson (LA) dec. Tu (FV), 7-1.
138 – Poe (LA) pins Bain (HB), 4:41.
145 – Ramirez (FV) pins Sugihara (LA), 0:38.
152 – Zotea (FV) maj. Kowaleski (LA), 10-2.
160 – Wilner (FV) pins Sandoval (LA), 1:46.
170 – Damschen (FV) pins Schearer (HB), 4:40.
182 – Licona (NH) dec. Jimenez (E), 5-2.
195 – Osumi (NH) pins Jackson (FV), 1:29.
220 – Franco (CdM) dec. Fee (FV), 6-1.
285 – Escamilla (Mar) pins Zeglinski (FV), 1:10.
106 – Villasenor (NH) pins Vu (HB), 0:39.
113 – Chorich (E) dec. Royster (HB), 11-4.
120 – Kobe (LA) pins Moses (E), 2:28.
126 – Nguyen (FV) pins Haimsarvey (CdM), 0:49.
132 – Seals (E) dec. Cegielski (CdM), 2-1.
138 – Gagnon (E) pins Stauffer (CdM), 4:22.
145 – Phan (E) dec. Reynolds (NH), 8-3.
152 – Iida (E) dec. Mungall (NH), 8-2.
160 – Barlow (E) pins Lane (HB), 2:15.
170 – Reichner (CdM) pins R. Escamilla (Mar), 3:45.
182 – Causse (Mar) pins Vyette (HB), 3:30.
195 – Cook (LA) dec. Laird (E), 10-3.
220 – Bebe (HB) def. Perez (NH)
285 – Davalos (LA) pins Rios (NH), 4:10.