Getting to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet is no easy task and it only gets harder advancing through to the CIF State Tournament.
Both La Cañada High's Marty Vardanian and South Pasadena's Ned Estrada were unable to advance to the second day of Masters and saw their seasons come to an end as a result Friday at Temecula Valley High.
"The Masters tournament, they call it the 'Meat Grinder'," Tigers Coach Al Shuton said. "They call it that for a reason because that's where all five divisions and all five champions meet. No matter who you draw, you're facing someone who is legitimately good and belongs there."
Vardanian wrestled four matches in the 182-pound division of the double-elimination tournament and was two points away from moving on to Saturday.
It's safe to say La Cañada Coach Gavin Williams was impressed.
"[Vardanian] wrestled great matches," Williams said. "He is probably the third best wrestler to ever come out of La Cañada and he's only had three years of wrestling."
In both losses Vardanian had to deal with wrestlers that stalled the entire third period to pick up the win.
First he wrestled Northview's Eddie Bernal in a one-point loss, 10-9, after he defeated Laguna Hills' Sean Dougher, 7-2, in the first round.
"[Bernal] stalled out and ran away from him the entire third period because he was afraid Marty was going to throw him on his back again," Williams said.
Faced with a win-or-go-home scenario, Vardanian picked up an impressive 9-3 victory over Canyon Springs' Alejandro Melendrez in the loser's bracket.
Vardanian was put in a similar position the week before in the CIF Southern Section Inland Division tournament when he lost his fourth match and came back to win his next two bouts for third place in the division.
"His skills as a wrestler have always been good, but I think what's developed the most in the past two or three weeks is his mental fortitude and ability to go out there and wrestle his heart out," Williams said. "There's no easy matches here. … I can't tell you how proud of him I am."
Vardanian's next match against Matt Ducasse of Atascadero was almost identical to the one before it.
"[Ducasse] was a beast but the same thing happened," Williams said. "Marty was down, but went after him, battled back and the guy was running away from him the entire third period. He got called for a stalling penalty but the refs weren't going to decide the match with another one. [Vardanian] had a takedown at the end but it was a half second too late — ref's choice there."
Estrada's season came to a disappointing end, as he lost both of his matches Friday after he took second in the 170-pound division at the Inland Tournament.
It all came down to the draw Friday, Shuton said.
"It just sucks, I know if he wrestled another kid he would have beat him," Shuton said. "It literally was the worst place in the entire bracket."
Estrada dropped his first match to Sonora's Micah Macias, 6-2, and had his high-school career ended in heartbreaking fashion.
Estrada faced Bishop Union's Jaime Ruelas, ranked second in the weight class, and was beating him handily, 9-0, and had Ruelas on his back looking for a pin early in the third.
Then Ruelas rolled Estrada to his back and the referee called it a pin even though Shuton said it wasn't even close to a fall.
"It is a pretty tough way to end [the season]," Shuton said. "The pin was not conducive to what he was doing, [Estrada] was beating him badly. It's unfortunate but it is what it is."