State of East County: five female wrestlers punch tickets to Bakersfield

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Kailey Smith becomes Granit Hills High School’s first female state qualifier.

With the inaugural San Diego Masters girls state-qualifying tournament held last Friday at Steele Canyon High School and four  boys divisional tournaments taking place throughout the section on Saturday, it was a whirlwind weekend for East County high school wrestlers.

There was plenty for mat fans to cheer for.

Ladies first

Granite Hills’ Kailey Smith became the first East County female wrestler to win a Masters individual weight class title after claiming the gold medal in her 103-pound weight class.

Smith (16-1) finished 3-0 on the day with two pins and a technical fall. She pinned West Hills’ Alexis Taitano in 1:34 in the quarterfinal round and then out-pointed University City’s Victoria Urquiza, 18-2, in the semifinals.

Smith pinned Brawley’s Arianna Gonzales in 5:41 in the championship match.

Smith had finished runner-up in her weight class at the preceding weekend’s Division I championship tournament at San Ysidro High School.

“Kailey has worked hard all season for this,” Granite Hills coach Jesse Sheard said. “She’s tough as they come and made sure she did what needed to be done to be a Masters champion. Her attitude and work ethic are amazing. After losing that finals match at CIF she was determined to win it all at Masters. I’m so proud of her and honored to coach her. She deserves to be Granite Hills first ever girls Masters champion.”

The top three finishers in each of the 14 weight classes qualified for the upcoming state championship tournament in Bakersfield. East County will be represented by five qualifiers. Steele Canyon’s Toren Dunbar (118 pounds), West Hills’ Chloe Tolentino (113) and Diane Baker (172) and El Cajon Valley’s Valeria Rocha (237) join Smith.

Dunbar, the reigning Division I champion, finished second following a loss in the finals against Ramona’s Berlin Kiddoo. Dunbar finished 2-1 with two pins.

Baker also finished 2-1 with two pins. She opened the tourney with quick pins of 46 and 17 seconds before being pinned in the championship round by San Pasqual’s Belen Merino in 3:59.

Baker previously won the Division II title the previous weekend at Santana High School.

Tolentino finished third following a win by medical forfeit over Montgomery’s Anahlia Flores. The Lady Wolf Pack wrestler finished 3-1 with two pins.

Rocha faced off the tournament with two pins before coming up short in a 7-2 decision to Brawley’s Aislinn Hernandez in the championship round.

West Hills’ Taitano (103), Grossmont’s Gabriella Coats (128) and Helix’s Alyssa Campos (133) all finished fourth in their respective weight classes.

Division II champion Brawley captured the inaugural Masters team title by a wide margin with 161 points. Valley Center finished second with 57 points.  West Hills finished in a three-way tie for fifth place.

The state championship tournament runs Feb. 27-29, allowing the section’s female qualifiers an additional week of practice to prepare for the event.

Heavy metal

Three East County mat men won gold medals at last weekend’s divisional tournaments.

El Capitan’s Stryder Prather (140) and Monte Vista’s Sebastian Valdez (287) won individual titles at the Division III tournament at Brawley High School while Mountain Empire’s Abraham Penuelas represented the Red Hawks on the awards stand with a first-place medal at 222 pounds at the Division IV tournament at Army-Navy Academy.

Prather posted a 12-3 major decision over Brawley’s Derek Johnston to win his weight class title while Valdez pinned University City’s Christopher Carmichael in 2:50 to claim his gold medal.

Penuelas pinned Palo Verde Valley’s Carlos Gomez in 2:59 in the finals.

Valdez and Penuelas both went 4-0 with four pins while Prather went 4-0 with two pins.

An impressive total of 11 East County grapplers recorded second-place finishes.

Helix’s Lex Lo finished runner-up in his 172-pound weight class at the Division I finals at Mission Hills High School.

Grossmont Hills League champion Granite Hills netted three individual runner-up finishers at the Division II tournament at Steele Canyon High School: Joel Corella (140), Josh Runge (154) and Skyler Hillberg (172).

The Eagles scored a strong fourth-place team finish.

Steele Canyon had two finalists at the Division II finals as Logan Robinson (108) and Ezra Cardenas (134) both captured silver medals in their respective weight classes.

Valhalla also had a pair of wrestlers take second place in their respective weights at the Division II finals: Matthew Jordan (122) and Guadalupe Garcia (162).

West Hills placed fourth at the Division III tournament in the desert while recording two silver medalists: Jake Maheu (184) and Parker Bell (197).

Besides Valdez, Monte Vista also had one other finalist at the Division III event as Zahi Davis placed runner-up at 128 pounds.

Lo, Robinson and Maheu all had three pins.

Teams will gather Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22, at El Centro Southwest High School for the San Diego Masters state qualifying tournament. The top four place-finishers in each of 14 weight class qualify for the state tournament the following weekend in Bakersfield.

Granite Hills’ Corella (26-10) could be one to watch this weekend.

“Joel has come a long way,” Sheard said. “He placed eighth at CIF last year to taking second this year. He’s put in the time in the offseason and it’s translating on the mat. He’s a great kid and leader to have in our program. With the way he’s going I believe he has a shot at making it to state. As a coach I love watching him compete and be successful. He’s an all-around great kid.”