Elijah Palacio’s smile is enough to light up even the dark corners of the most dimly-lit wrestling rooms.
While he projects a vibrant personality to those around him, he brought some rather heavy feelings with him when he transferred to Edison High from Calvary Chapel.
The senior had gone soul searching, hoping to rediscover his love of the sport that had given him so much. Coming off a junior season in which he had won his second CIF Southern Section Individual title and become a first-time CIF State medalist, Palacio was filled with a sense that wrestling had become a job.
He grinded day in and day out with little room for flexibility. The restraints bothered Palacio.
When he got to Edison, he experienced different feelings. He called it a “restart,” and with his new team, he not only enjoyed success, but he was having fun with the sport again.
The change of scenery helped Palacio, the Daily Pilot Wrestling Dream Team Wrestler of the Year, turn in a memorable year. The 132-pounder finished 33-7 overall, won his third section individual title and medaled for the second straight time at state.
“Here, I have a voice,” Palacio said. “I’m not that kid at Calvary where I have to be quiet and I have to do what is said that I have to do. Going here, I had the choices.”
While Palacio’s wrestling spoke for itself, Chargers coach Pete Escandon said that Palacio’s vocal leadership was also on display.
“Elijah has just had a way of motivating everybody around him,” Escandon said. “His presence is known whenever he is somewhere, and he is just a real leader.”
He said Palacio would deliver pep talks before dual meets, and Edison flexed its muscle in taking second in the Sunset League. The Chargers challenged Fountain Valley, but the Barons won the dual meet 34-24 to clinch their seventh consecutive league title.
Although his résumé subjected him to big expectations, Palacio said he felt no pressure to add on to what he had already accomplished. His last year had a different meaning, and he stopped to enjoy each tournament as it would be the last time he was passing through.
“Probably going into my junior year, I felt like I had to defend,” Palacio said. “Senior year, it was a lot different for me.”
As he prepared for a final CIF postseason run, Palacio recalled some words of wisdom that Escandon had offered. He had nothing left to prove. All he had to do was go out and have fun.
“‘Put on a show,’” Palacio explained. “That’s what Pete always tells me.”
To his benefit, Palacio had another wrestler on the team with a similar experience. Manhattan Beach Mira Costa transfer Jared Williams had also joined the Chargers for his senior year.
Williams, a 152-pounder, made it known from the beginning that he just wanted to have fun. Escandon allowed his elite wrestlers to choose their own path, and they thrived together.
“We had our coaches there and helping us out with what we wanted to work on because we have been wrestling long enough,” Williams said of his and Palacio’s practice regimen. “I learned stuff from him. He learned stuff from me. That’s how we got through this year and we got so much better throughout this year is that we built off of each other.”
Both wrestlers would roll through their brackets in the CIF Southern Division championships to earn individual titles, eventually winding up at the state championship meet.
Palacio took second at the section’s Masters. At state, he improved upon his eighth-place showing as a junior, taking sixth.
The California Wrestler had Palacio ranked as the No. 4 wrestler at 132 pounds in the state. Still, he faced stiff competition throughout the year with top-ranked Jesse Vasquez of Corona Santiago and No. 5 Marcos Polanco of La Puente Bishop Amat being products of the Southern Section.
In addition to capturing a section title and medaling at state, Palacio earned four more titles. He won the Edison Beach Bash, the Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno, the California Invitational Tournament in Morro Bay and the Sunset League finals.
Put on a show. That’s what Pete always tells me.
The four-time state qualifier has signed to continue his wrestling career at San Francisco State. He called the California Invitational Tournament his most memorable moment of the season. Palacio was named lower-weight MVP of the tournament after registering four pins in six matches.
He beat Clovis Buchanan’s Tyler Deen in the final, the wrestler who had beaten him in the seventh-place match at state the year prior.
“Wearing his heart on his sleeve shows,” Escandon said. “When we weren’t having a good practice, he would be the one to let the team know, ‘Let’s go! Let’s pick it up! We’ve got to go harder!’ No questions asked.
“I’m pretty sure if he told the whole team to walk off a mountain top, they would just because it’s Elijah telling them to do it.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Corona del Mar
In the 2017 campaign, Corona del Mar won a single Pacific Coast League dual meet. A year later, the Sea Kings finished as the runner-up to perennial league champion Irvine. They made the margin respectable, as Danny Reichner’s win at 195 pounds kept CdM alive in the dual meet with just two matches remaining. The Sea Kings earned a rare bid into the CIF Southern Division Duals, as one of the three at-large entries in the 16-team bracket (lost to Katella 46-28). It was CdM’s first appearance at the CIF Duals since their inception in 1992. In addition, CdM set a school record in sending 10 individuals to the CIF Inland Division championships as a result of their top-three performances in the Pacific Coast League finals. CdM also won the Newport-Mesa District Championships, beating rival Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay 46-30 in the process and giving the Golden Singlet a change of address for the first time since 2011.
113 | Marina | So.
After finishing as the runner-up for the Sunset League team title last year, the Vikings took a step back in team competitions. Most of Marina’s highlights were derived from the performances of two brothers. Mike McCoy, the youngest of three brothers, secured his second individual league title, having won his first at 106 pounds the year prior. He went 32-13 overall, placing first in the Tustin Invitational and also going undefeated in four matches at the Tustin Duals. In addition, the sophomore took third in the Laguna Hills Invitational, fifth in the Cossarek Classic (at 120 pounds) and eighth in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division championships.
126 | Fountain Valley | Fr.
The Barons did not experience a rebuild following the graduation of three CIF Southern Section Masters qualifiers from last year’s team. An influx of freshman talent helped Fountain Valley extend its Sunset League reign with a seventh straight title. Zotea, who went 32-6 this season, was a big part of that. Although he wrestled in multiple weight classes, Zotea’s performance never wavered. He began the year wrestling at 132 pounds, claiming third place at the Cossarek Classic and the Cerritos Tournament of Champions. He also took second in the Mann Classic. From there, he dropped down to 126. The Sunset League individual champion took third at the Five Counties Tournament and the CIF Southern Division championships. He also qualified for Masters, going 3-2 in the state-qualifying tournament.
143 | Huntington Beach | Sr.
Belman fancied herself as a pioneer at every stop she made in her high school wrestling career. The Bakersfield Liberty transfer arrived at Huntington Beach this year, and she brought experience to a program that had lost its only CIF Southern Section Masters qualifier from 2017 in Jackson Oehling. The Oilers went from not having a girls’ wrestling program to having four girls compete this year. Freshman Breanne Raya blossomed with guidance from Belman, and they competed together at the section’s girls’ finals. Belman placed third at the tournament to extend her season to the CIF State meet for the second straight year. She became a first-time state medalist in taking eighth. The senior went 33-6, taking home titles at the Millikan Invitational, the Born Vicious Tournament and the Capistrano Valley Lady Big Kat Invitational. It is no surprise to hear that she would like to start a wrestling club at UC San Diego, where she plans to attend college.
145 | Marina | Sr.
In his senior season, John McCoy found himself in contention nearly everywhere he went. Despite regular appearances in the late rounds of tournaments, titles proved elusive for the two-time Dream Team selection. The primary reason for those struggles was that a Fountain Valley Baron stood in his way for the second year in a row. During his junior season, the nemesis was Karson Ayres. This year, freshman Max Wilner became his archrival. McCoy posted a 42-10 record, placing second in the Sunset League finals and the CIF Southern Section Southern Division championships. He had eight top-five showings, which included placing fifth in the Five Counties Tournament and third at both the Cossarek Classic and the Mann Classic.
145 | Fountain Valley | Fr.
The Barons’ rising star dominated his competition by being one of the toughest wrestlers to score points against. Wilner rarely got put on his back, and he always seemed to have the answers when it counted. He won a CIF Southern Section Southern Division title as a freshman, defeating Marina’s John McCoy by a narrow 7-6 decision in the final. Wilner delivered in the clutch again when he scored the match-winning takedown against San Marino’s Beau Perez to take a 5-4 decision in the waning seconds of their quarterfinals match at Masters. He finished as the runner-up in the tournament, and he went on to post three wins at the CIF State meet. Wilner went 33-6, claiming another title in the Edison Beach Bash. He also had runner-up showings in the Cossarek Classic and the Mann Classic, and he placed third in the Five Counties Tournament. Wilner finished the season ranked 10th in the state by The California Wrestler.
152 | Edison | Sr.
A self-proclaimed “mat rat,” Williams battled nagging injuries to his ankles, shoulders and knees, but as the season progressed, his results got better. The injuries saw Williams default out of a number of tournaments once he dropped into the consolation bracket. On the mat, however, Williams posted a record of 36-5. Ranked sixth among 152-pounders in the state by the California Wrestler, the Chargers senior outperformed his seed at the CIF State meet in claiming third place. “The thing about wrestling is that you don’t get to decide how you wrestle,” he said. “It’s just how you feel. There are good days and bad days. Fortunately, my last two weeks of wrestling were some good days of wrestling.” Williams won five titles, which came at the Cossarek Classic, the Edison Beach Bash, the Mann Classic, the Sunset League finals and the CIF Southern Section Southern Division championships.
160 | Fountain Valley | Sr.
Ching provided one of the season’s best moments when he rallied from his back to defeat Oxnard Pacifica’s Tim Brown with a second-period pin in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division championships. Upon hearing the whistle, Ching straightened up and pointed skyward in a display of unquestionable jubilation. Unlike Wilner, Ching was not nearly as stingy in giving up points to his opponents, but he prevailed nonetheless. He had four pins in five matches en route to his first CIF individual crown. As a senior, Ching went 29-9, also earning titles in the Sunset League finals and the Edison Beach Bash. He wound up heading to CIF individuals as the top-seeded 160-pounder, fulfilling that designation, and attending his first Masters meet as a result.
Name, School, Year, Weight
Hector Camerena, Estancia, Sr., 113
Noah Edsell, Ocean View, Sr., 126
Kiersten Muse, Corona del Mar, Jr., 137
Cole Jensen, Corona del Mar, Jr., 145
Jacob Taub, Fountain Valley, Sr., 170
Zack Lund, Edison, Sr., 182
Austin Osumi, Newport Harbor, Jr., 195
Aaron Gonzalez, Costa Mesa, Jr., 220
Danny Escamilla, Marina, Jr., 285