La Cañada High wrestling earns at-large berth

After a one-year hiatus, the La Cañada High wrestling team will return to the CIF Southern Section Division VI Dual Meet Wrestling championship tournament.

The Spartans, who are tied for 10th with Santa Paula in the final regular season poll released this week, earned one of the division's five at-large berths, as was announced by the CIF-SS office Thursday afternoon.

La Cañada (4-1), the Rio Hondo League runner-up, will face third-seeded Bay League champion West Torrance (5-1), last year's divisional runner-up, in Saturday's opening round at Redondo Union High.

First-round action begins at 11 a.m. with half of the 16 teams starting at that session and then the rest beginning approximately at 1 p.m.

The playoff announcement was somewhat expected at La Cañada, although there was still apprehension.

"We want to have a business-like approach and this was one of the goals for the season," Spartans first-year Coach Justin Luthey said. "We didn't win league to clinch the automatic berth, so we're definitely pleased to get an at-large berth."

The league's automatic berth went to sixth-ranked San Marino (5-0), which sits on the opposite end of the divisional bracket and would only meet La Cañada in the tournament championship final.

For La Cañada, this is the program's third trip to the dual meet championships over the last four years, as the Spartans, who finished second in league in 2012-2013, chose not to apply for a postseason bid in the final year under former coach Gavin Williams.

Two years prior, La Cañada made some noise at the dual meet tournament, defeating Downey Calvary Chapel, 52-21, in the first round before falling to second-seeded Nipomo, 45-22.

"I remember going as a freshman and sophomore and it's an honor to go back for my senior year," said La Cañada's Peter Garfield, the Rio Hondo League champion at 195 pounds. "This is a great opportunity to close our team season on a high note and get ready for individuals."

As for this year, the Spartans' only dual-meet experience has come in league, where the team defeated Hoover (58-21), South Pasadena (54-21), Monrovia (51-21) and St. Paul (54-18) and lost to San Marino (40-31).

"It's kind of nice to get some experience outside of league," Luthey said. "When you run into the same people and the same league, sometimes it's harder to focus."

While Luthey admits he doesn't know much about West Torrance, he also doesn't think that's such a bad thing.

"I don't think we ran into West Torrance in any tournaments," Luthey said. "From what I hear, they're pretty good in the lower weights, so that might not be too different than [the circumstances] we've had with South Pasadena and San Marino also being stronger at the lower weights.

"I think in some ways, it's actually better that we don't know too much about our opponent. That really forces us to focus more on ourselves. Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing."

West Torrance fell to Carter, 33-31, in last year's dual meet final and is led this season by 126-pounder Yoshi Funakoshi, a CIF State placer a year ago, who was the lower weight MVP of the Brute Warrior Invitational on Dec. 7.

Funakoshi is one of a few stout wrestlers for the Warriors in the lower weights, including 120-pounder Octavio Canales and 145-pounder Daniel Czarske.

If there's a distinct advantage for La Cañada, it's that the first-round action will begin at 195 pounds and work its way up and around back to the lower weights, meaning that Rio Hondo League champions Garfield (195), Christian Tichon (220) and Guillermo Padilla (heavyweight) will get a chance to compete and 182-pounder Alex Bache, also a league champion, could close in the final bout.

"I have even more of a drive to do better," Garfield said. "Regardless, though, of when we start, whether that's 103 or heavyweight, wrestling is wrestling and we have to be prepared."

Should La Cañada advance past the first round, then the Spartans would face either Prep League champion Calvary Chapel Downey (6-0) or freelance squad Hillcrest (12-2) in the second round at approximately 3 p.m. The semifinals are slated for 5 p.m. while the finals have a start time of 7:15.

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