For the better part of a decade, the Fountain Valley High wrestling program has reigned supreme in the Sunset League.
The Barons have won seven straight league titles, and they appear well-suited in their attempt to win an eighth in a row.
Fountain Valley has a new head coach in Dennis Piramo. He served as an assistant coach under the Barons’ previous head coach in Brad Woodbury. Piramo traded in his athletic director duties at the school to head the wrestling team.
Having been around the program, Piramo is optimistic about his team’s chances to contend for a CIF Southern Section title. Woodbury had been reluctant to put his team in the CIF Duals, thinking of it as a potential hazard to the health of his athletes when it came to the individual postseason.
Piramo said that the Barons plan to compete in the CIF Duals this season, as the Barons are ranked third in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 poll.
Fountain Valley currently boasts four wrestlers ranked inside of the state’s top 25 of their respective weight classes, as provided by TheCaliforniaWrestler.com.
Leading the charge is sophomore Max Wilner, who is ranked fifth at 160 pounds. Wilner comes off a Daily Pilot Dream Team selection as a freshman, a year that saw him win a CIF Southern Division title and finish as the runner-up at Masters for 145-pounders.
This season, Wilner has already claimed titles at the Cossarek Classic and the Mann Classic.
Sophomore Dylan Zotea, a Masters qualifier as a freshman, is ranked 25th in the state at 152 pounds, and sophomore Luis Ramirez is the 15th-ranked 145-pounder.
The youth movement continues throughout the Barons’ lineup. At 106 pounds, freshman Sean Solis is ranked 15th in the state and freshman Kade Ayres is an honorable mention.
In a matchup of the top two teams in the Sunset League last year, host Fountain Valley defeated Edison 61-18 to open Surf League competition on Dec. 19. It was always going to be tough for the Chargers to replace Elijah Palacio and Jared Williams, a pair of CIF State medalists who recently graduated.
Los Alamitos won the other Surf League opener against visiting Marina 49-30 on Dec. 19, emerging as the primary challenger to Fountain Valley. The Griffins are ranked eighth in Division 3.
Marina is led by a pair of upperclassman returners in junior Mike McCoy (120) and senior Daniel Escamilla (285).
McCoy watched his brother, John, finish as the CIF Southern Division runner-up to a Fountain Valley wrestler — Karson Ayres and Wilner — at 145 pounds the last two years.
The youngest of three brothers to wrestle in the program, McCoy has elevated his wrestling this season. He has reached the finals of the Cossarek Classic and the Mann Classic, and he went undefeated in the Tustin Duals.
“He’s different in the sense that I don’t think he wrestles with a lot of pressure,” Vikings coach Chris Rasmussen said. “He likes wrestling, and he goes out and wrestles his way. He’s less of a technical wrestler and more of a physical wrestler. He has fun wrestling. That’s the best way that I can describe it.”
The Wave League will have its own headlines, as Wednesday’s Battle of the Bay between Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar will not only put the Golden Singlet on the line, but it may also decide the league championship.
In the District Championships on Dec. 11, Newport Harbor defeated host CdM 38-36.
A key matchup in that dual meet pitted Sailors senior Austin Osumi against Sea Kings sophomore Emilio Franco. The 36th-ranked wrestler at 195 pounds, Osumi moved up to 220 pounds to take on Franco.
“He’s such a strong kid,” Sailors coach Dominic Bulone said of Osumi. “I’ve never worried about any weight he might be giving up to his opponents.
“In the offseason last year, after he got eliminated, he trained all offseason. He went to a lot of tournaments and wrestled a lot and lifted weights in football. He’s really put in the time and effort for this season.”
Osumi has become proficient at finishing his opponents off quickly with first-period pins. He is now the school’s all-time leader in career pins with 48. Ryan Cerrato had previously held the record of 41 pins since 2011.
Bulone added that Miguel Licona, a 182-pounder, has proved to be a quality sparring partner for Osumi in practice.
CdM, which is ranked eighth in Division 6, topped Huntington Beach 41-28 in the teams’ Wave League opener on Dec. 19, but it was a tight match until the finish.
“It was an exciting match,” Sea Kings coach Mark Alex said. “We were winning 29-28 going into the last two matches, and we pinned the last two guys.”
Kiersten Muse is making noise for the Sea Kings on the girls’ side. She won the 143-pound title at the Rialto Carter Classic earlier this season.
The four-team format of the Surf League and Wave League will be in effect for duals, but the Sunset Conference will merge for league finals. In doing so, the top four individuals in each weight class from the eight-team conference will advance to the CIF postseason.
“I like having the smaller groupings so that we have less dual meets, less weigh-ins,” Bulone said. “That part’s good. The other part that is good is that out of eight teams, you get two dual-meet champions instead of one. It spreads the wealth a little bit. I’m in favor.
“[For league finals], if you kept it as Surf and Wave, then you would still send four as a [conference], but you would send two in each [league]. That’s not necessarily the best four kids in a weight class, if you do it that way, so that’s why we want it to be all together for the individuals.”
Costa Mesa defeated visiting Estancia in the Battle for the Bell 53-30 on Dec. 19. Mustangs coach Adam Marquez said that Costa Mesa has won four in a row in the Orange Coast League series.
Newcomer Santa Ana, ranked fourth in Division 2, should be the favorite to win the Orange Coast League championship.
Ocean View, which resides in the Golden West League, is led by Raxel Ortiz (120), Rusty Clarke (126) and Jason Nguyen (182). All three were CIF qualifiers last season.
Jan. 9: Corona del Mar at Newport Harbor (Battle of the Bay)
Jan. 11-12: Five Counties Tournament at Fountain Valley High
Jan. 18-19: CIT at Morro Bay High
Jan. 26: CIF Dual Championships
Feb. 2: Sunset League finals at Fountain Valley High
Feb. 8-9: CIF Southern Section Individual Championships (Multiple sites)
Feb. 15-16: CIF Southern Section Masters at Cerritos College, CIF Southern Section girls’ finals at Eastvale Roosevelt High