Championships and Masters Meets berths are up for grabs, as a total of seven qualifiers and two alternates from the La Cañada High wrestling team prepare for the two-day long CIF Southern Section Eastern Division Individual Wrestling Championships at Perris Citrus Hill High, beginning on Friday.
The goal for each participant is to win one of 14 divisional weight championships or finish in one of the top five spots out of the roughly 25 wrestlers per weight class to earn advancement to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet taking place at Citizen Bank Arena in Ontario from Feb. 28 to March 1.
“Three weeks ago all the emphasis was on team-building and wrestling for the team,” Spartans first-year Coach Justin Luthey said. “Now the focus has turned toward the individual aspect and we’ve been focusing on getting better, staying healthy and getting comfortable.”
One such wrestler attempting to recapture his former prowess and return to the Masters Meet is La Cañada’s Guillermo Padilla.
The Spartans senior heavyweight, who finished fourth at the Eastern Division championships last year, has been limited to two bouts this season due primarily to injuries and byes.
“I would say I’m a little out of condition, but I’m training hard and I’ll be ready,” said Padilla, the Rio Hondo League heavyweight champion. “To me, this is just another wrestling match. I’m going to treat it like all the others because I don’t want to psyche myself out.”
Despite a small sample size this year, Padilla is still the only Spartans wrestler ranked and comes in at No. 20 in the state according to most recent poll from thecaliforniawrestler.com.
“I have high expectations for myself,” Padilla said. “My sophomore year I finished sixth at CIF and then I was fourth my junior year. I’m shooting for a top-three this year and I’d like to try to make it to state.”
Padilla is one of four Rio Hondo League champions that La Cañada boasts, along with 185-pounder Alex Bache, 195-pounder Peter Garfield and 220-pounder Christian Tichon.
As far as tournament victories go this year, maybe nobody on the squad has had a better year than Bache, as the senior boasts a 22-3 record that includes tournament championships at the San Marino Invitational, the South Pasadena Tiger Invite and the John Glenn Tournament.
Bache is undefeated this postseason, including notching a pin at 3:08 versus Redondo Union’s Vignesh Krisha in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division VI Dual Meet Wrestling Championships at Redondo Union High on Feb. 8 in a match the Spartans ultimately dropped, 49-25.
Bache was one of two Spartans to earn a fall at the championships along with Tichon.
The 220-pounder enters Friday’s first day of competition with an 18-6 record and two third-place efforts at the John Glenn Tournament and the Arroyo Invitational.
“I’m really hoping to place in the top five and to go to Masters,” Tichon said. “This is it, this is my senior year and I’m hoping for one final push.”
Tichon and the other qualifiers have had a benefit of more mat time and less distraction since the close of the team competition.
“I think it’s been a little bit easier for us to stay focused when it’s just the final wrestlers out there,” Tichon said. “You have the seniors just able to focus on themselves and not have to look out for the rest of the team.”
Tichon is making his inaugural visit to the Eastern Division championships, while Garfield is returning a year after going 2-2 in the tournament, which was held at Oak Hills High.
Garfield owns a 14-6 record this season with his best tournament finish (outside of a Rio Hondo League title) being a runner-up effort at the South Pasadena Tiger Invite.
La Cañada has three additional qualifiers in 106-pounder Sean Consolo (9-11 record) and 170-pounder Daniel Badie (11-9), who both finished third at the Rio Hondo League finals, along with league runner-up Jesse Leamon (9-4), who will wrestle at 138 pounds.
Spartans freshman 113-pounder Andrew Aghadjanians (9-10) and junior 145-pounder Chris Harb (14-15) will serve as alternates.
The official brackets for the two-day tournament won’t be released until after a divisional seeding meeting on Thursday evening.