The Big Show: Seven East County mat men qualify for state wrestling tournament

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Seven East County wrestlers have qualified to compete in this weekend’s state championship tournament in Bakersfield, and in record-setting fashion.

Three mat men representing Steele Canyon High School, two wrestlers from Helix Charter High School and one each from Mount Miguel and West Hills high schools will be vying for spots on the awards podium at Rabobank Arena this weekend.

The state tournament starts Friday, March 3, and wraps up Saturday, March 4.

Seven East County wrestlers have qualified to compete in this weekend’s state championship tournament in Bakersfield, and in record-setting fashion.

Three mat men representing Steele Canyon High School, two wrestlers from Helix Charter High School and one each from Mount Miguel and West Hills high schools will be vying for spots on the awards podium at Rabobank Arena this weekend.

The state tournament starts Friday, March 3, and wraps up Saturday, March 4.

Sophomore Xavier Silva (154 pounds), sophomore David Lipscomb (162 pounds) and senior Gerardo Jaime (222 pounds) will represent Steele Canyon while seniors Marcus Tucker (108 pounds) and Andrew Poumele (287 pounds) will represent Helix. Mount Miguel senior Juan Ruiz (147 pounds) and West Hills junior Lucas Ahkey (287 pounds) also qualified to compete at the upcoming state tournament.

The seven East County wrestlers qualified to participate in the state tournament by placing among the top four wrestlers in their respective weight classes at last weekend’s San Diego Masters state-qualifying tournament, held Feb. 24-25 at Olympian High School.

Steele Canyon coach Mark Gerardi said the three state qualifiers is a school record for the Cougars mat program.

“They did well this year,” explained Gerardi, a three-time state champion during his wrestling days at Valhalla High School.

Gerardi, who holds the San Diego Section record with 128 consecutive victories and finished his prep career with a 152-6 record, said there is only one ingredient to becoming a state qualifier.

“Hard work, hard work and more hard work,” he noted. “There’s no easy way to get there; you’ve got to work hard.”

Top-seeded Jaime (41-7) punched his ticket to the state meet by capturing a 3-2 decision over third-seeded Rancho Bernardo junior Ryan Olivas (29-9) at last Saturday’s Masters finals. He called winning the elite Masters tournament a “surreal” experience.

“I’ve been looking to get in this position for two years …  to accomplish it is amazing,” he said. “I worked out when I felt it didn’t matter because I knew it would matter.” 

Jaime previously captured the championship title at the Division II tournament. At Masters, he finished 4-0 with one pin and one major decision.

Silva placed third while Lipscomb placed fourth to join Jaime at this weekend’s state tournament.

Silva, seeded eighth, won six consecutive matches in the consolation bracket to earn his medal. He won by medical forfeit over Brawley senior Gilbert Carrillo in the third-place match.

Lipscomb, seeded third, lost by medical forfeit against Vista senior Elijah Davis to place fourth after reaching the semifinals.

Gerardi said goals set this season for the team included a top three finish at the San Diego Section divisionals and a top five finish at the Masters tournament. The Cougars finished third at the Division II finals and tied Brawley for fifth place at Masters.

“We got both,” he said with a sense of pride in his voice. 

Prior to entering post-season competition, the Cougars captured this year’s Grossmont Hills League dual meet championship title.  

“We had a great group of kids,” Gerardi explained. “We had great senior leadership together with young talent. They were consistent all year.”

Mat attack

Tucker finished second in his weight class while Poumele was third as the pair of Highlander mat men competed at opposite ends of the 14 weight classes. Ahkey finished fourth behind Poumele.

Tucker dropped a 9-2 decision to Poway junior Jacob Allen in the championship round while Poumele claimed an 8-4 decision over Ahkey in the third-place match.

Tucker takes a 34-8 record into the state tournament.

“It’s more than anything I could have imagined,” explained Tucker, who previously placed runner-up at the Division I finals. “This is my greatest accomplishment to this point. I want to max it out this weekend –- place at state and get as high on the podium as I can get.”

Tucker finished runner-up to Mira Mesa’s Jasvinder Singh at the Division I finals in a 5-4 setback but got a measure of revenge by topping Singh by a 6-0 score at the Masters semifinals. Tucker out-pointed Steele Canyon freshman Tharen Burns, 4-0, in the quarterfinals after pinning Mission Hills sophomore Alfonso Cruz in 1:09 in his first match.

The Helix grappler, who did not place at last year’s Masters tournament, said he’s become more aggressive on the mat this season to account for his success.

“I’m more determined to score points,” he said. “Last year I was just trying to win and not lose.”

The Highlanders had three place-finishers at this year’s Masters tournament as sophomore Joshua Kopmeyer finished fifth at 162 pounds. Helix coach Adam Krzywicki said the three Masters place-winners marked the best showing for his team in the five years he’s served as coach.

“The last three years we’ve had two state qualifiers,” Krzywicki explained. “I think it’s a goal now for the younger kids on the team.

“Both Marcus and Andrew have had very good seasons. They put in a lot of work and are reaping the rewards of all that hard work.”

Poumele won five matches in the consolation bracket to medal while Ahkey, his opponent in the third-place match, won six matches in the consolation rounds.

Ruiz, who won this year’s Division IV championship, defeated Rancho Buena Vista senior Hunter Roberson by a pin in 2:48 to capture third place at Masters. Ruiz, a three-time divisional champion, is a two-time state qualifier.

“I owe it to hard work and dedication,” Ruiz explained. “I feel good but not satisfied.”

“The goal is noted, his drive is hungry; his job is not complete,” Matador coach Vic Richmond offered philosophically.

Obviously, there could be more accolades to come.

Takedowns

The top six place-winners in each weight class at Masters received medals. Isaiah Hawkins of Valhalla and Nick Ghosn of Grossmont finshed fifth and sixth, respectively, at 197 pounds to earn medals to bring this year’s East County total to 10 Masters medalists.

Poway captured the team title at last weekend’s Masters event with 333 points to easily out-distance runner-up Rancho Bernardo (219 points). Rancho Buena Vista was third behind the two mat giants with 95 points, nipping North County rival San Marcos by one point.

Steele Canyon and Brawley tied for fifth place with 87 points, followed by Ramona in seventh place with 86.5 points and Mater Dei Catholic in eighth place with 85.5 points. Metro-Mesa League champion Olympian finished ninth with 81 points while Vista rounded out the top 10 teams with 78 points.

Poway led the section with 12 state qualifiers while Rancho Bernardo had seven state qualifiers.

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