Three East County mat men qualify for state wrestling

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The San Diego Section Masters state-qualifying wrestling tournament has been described as a “meat-grinder” by various coaches over the years. With good reason: only the top three place-finishers in each of the 14 weight classes punch tickets to the state championship tournament.

The San Diego Section Masters state-qualifying wrestling tournament has been described as a “meat-grinder” by various coaches over the years. With good reason: only the top three place-finishers in each of the 14 weight classes punch tickets to the state championship tournament.

That talent pool includes qualifiers from the previous week’s four divisional tournaments. Look at it this way: there are 56 divisional weight class champions from the four division tournaments and only 14 Masters weight class champions; there are 336 qualifiers from the divisional tournament and just 42 state qualifiers. There are 24 divisional qualifiers in each weight class but there can only be one Masters champion.

Got the picture? Masters is a big challenge for anyone, even the most experienced high school wrestlers.

Three East County mat men, however, managed to hurdle that difficult barrier and will compete in this weekend’s state tournament in Bakersfield.

The 44th annual California state boys wrestling tournament faces off Friday at Rabobank Arena; finals are scheduled Saturday.

Trence Gillem and D’Rell Gist, both representing Helix High School, along with Mount Miguel’s Juan Ruiz comprise this year’s select group of state qualifiers from the Grossmont Conference.

Gillem qualified for the prestigious honor after winning his 140-pound weight class at last Saturday’s Masters tournament at Christian High School. Gist placed second in his 172-pound weight class while Ruiz placed third.

Gillem and Gist previously emerged as Division I section champions while Ruiz won the section’s Division IV title a week earlier

Gillem carries a 32-2 record into the state meet; Gist is 35-11.

“It feels pretty good, but the goal is a state championship,” Gillem explained. “I’m going for the next step.”

Gist echoed those same sentiments.

“It feels awesome,” Gist said. “All the hard work you put in to win the Division I tournament is a stepping stone to being a Masters champion and a state champion. I went in there with confidence that I was going to qualify (for the state meet).

Gillem is ecstatic to be going to the state meet with a teammate.

“It feels good, but when your best friend is there, it makes it feel even better,” Gillem said.

At the Division I finals, held Feb. 20 at Otay Ranch High School, Gillem scored a first-period pin in 1:02 and added technical falls of 19-4 and 16-0 to advance to the championship match against Carlsbad’s Owen Weisel. Gillem, top-seeded in the weight class, defeated Weisel, seeded third, by an 11-4 decision.

At Masters, Gillem earned the No. 2 seed to Poway’s Scott Kiyono, the Division II champion, and opened the tournament with technical falls of 16-1 and 20-3 to reach the semifinals against Weisel, the No. 6 seed. Gillem won 7-1 to meet Kiyono in the finals.

In a match-up of top seeds, Gillem won by a 5-2 decision to claim the coveted Masters title.  

Gillem’s foot-speed and agility make him a threat on the mat at whatever tournament and whatever level he competes.

“I like to be on my feet,” the Helix mat man said. “I like snap downs, double legs, single legs – any leg attacks.”

Gist earned the top seed at the Division I tournament and, after a bye in the first round, pinned his way to the finals with fall times of 53 seconds (quarterfinals) and 4:50 (semifinals). He met second-seeded Denzalle Hollingsworth in the championship round, winning by a tight 3-2 decision.

At Masters, Gist received the No. 2 seed and pinned his opening two opponents before meeting sixth-seeded Brian Hissong of La Costa Canyon in the semifinals. Gist pulled out a 3-2 win to advance to the championship round against top-seeded Celso Silva of Poway. Silva, the Division II champion, won 3-1 to relegate Gist to the rights to the silver medal.

Ruiz advanced to the semifinals with a pair of second-period pins before losing by a 55-second pin to Poway’s David Scrinvor, the No. 2 seed in the weight class and the reigning Division II champion. Ruiz rebounded with an 18-3 win over Otay Ranch’s Sithara Diunugala to advance to the third-place match against Rancho Buena Vista’s Sean McDannold, the Division I runner-up.

The third-place matches at Masters are even more nerve-racking than the finals, where both wrestlers are already assured of state berths. The winner of the third-place match is only assured of a state berth, and the least mistake can prove costly.

Ruiz defeated McDannold 11-5 to secure that final state-qualifying berth in the weight class. 

Road to Masters

Eight Grossmont Conference wrestlers won divisional section championships this year. They include Helix’s Gillem and Gist, Mt. Miguel’s Ruiz, as well as Granite Hills’ Victor Garcia (287 pounds), West Hills’ Nick Rivinius (162 pounds) and three additional Mt. Miguel wrestlers: Kevin Monroy (108 pounds), Manuel Cano  (122 pounds) and Johnathan Monroy (162 pounds).

All proved they had the proverbial right stuff to emerge from the 2016 divisional wrestling championships with prized individual weight class championships.

The Grossmont Conference also had five other finalists:

El Capitan’s Cameron Gritz (147 pounds) and the West Hills’ duo of Diego Sanchez (184 pounds) and Kevin Ah Key (222 pounds) all took second place at the Division III championship tournament while Santana’s Danny Middaugh (138 pounds) and Matthew Homan (222 pounds) both placed runner-up at the Division IV tournament.

Garcia defeated Orange Glen’s Luis Mendoza to win the Division II heavyweight title while Rivinius pinned La Costa Canyon’s Dylan Winston in 1:21 to claim his individual Division III championship.

In the Division IV finals. Kevin Monroy pinned St. Augustine’s Moises Pacheco in 1:42 while Cano pinned Valley Center’s Michael Garcia in 1:38 and Johnathan Monroy pinned Valley Center’s Brock Moffit in 49 seconds. 

Mat quest

Helix advanced three wrestlers to the Division I finals. Junior Marcus Tucker placed second in his 108-pound weight class following a 13-2 loss by major decision to RBV’s Oscar Nellis in the championship round. Tucker took a 28-11 record into the Masters tournament at which point he won his opening two matches to advance to the semifinals.

Tucker lost by a 13-5 major decision to top-seeded Jacob Allen of Poway, the Division II champion, in the semifinals and dropped a 10-2 major decision to second-seeded Joseph Meier, the Division III champion, in the consolation semifinals.

Tucker went on to place sixth in his weight class at Masters to cap his most successful season of wrestling thus far. He said the mental motivation to succeed was especially strong this season.

“Halfway through my sophomore year my father passed away,” he said. “I buckled down and started training harder to do as much as I could to make him proud.” 

Takedowns 

The top eight place-finishers received medals at the Division I tournament while the top seven place-winners qualified to compete at the San Diego Masters state-qualifying tournament. The top seven place-finishers at the Division II tournament also advanced to Masters while the top six place-finishers in the Division III and the top four place-finishers at the Division IV tournament did so.

San Marcos won the Division I team title with 242.5 points, followed by RBV in second place with 212 points and Helix in third place with 155.5 points.  

Steele Canyon and Valhalla finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Division II tournament at Westview High School. West Hills and Monte Vista finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Division III tournament at Del Norte High School.

Mt. Miguel finished third at the Division IV tournament at Madison High School where Santana finished seventh in the same field.

Division team champions included San Marcos (Division I), Poway (Division II), Brawley (Division III) and Valley Center (Division IV). All four teams also won CIF dual meet championships the previous week.

Runners-up at this year’s divisionals included RBV (Division I), Rancho Bernardo (Division II), La Costa Canyon (Division III) and Army-Navy Academy (Division IV).

Poway out-distanced Rancho Bernardo 260-224 in team points while Brawley sweated out a nail-biter victory against LCC 239-236.5. Valley Center out-pointed Army-Navy 212-152. Mt. Miguel challenged for second place with 150.5 points while edging Palo Verde (150 points) for third place.

Poway captured first place in the team standings at Masters with 318.5 points, followed by Division II runner-up Rancho Bernardo (second, 192.5 points), Division I champion San Marcos (third, 164.5 points), Division III runner-up La Costa Canyon (fourth, 148 points), Division I runner-up RBV (fifth, 130 points), Division III champion Brawley (sixth, 111 points) and Helix (seventh, 86.5 points).

Mt. Miguel finished ninth in the Masters field with 60.5 points to tie Ramona. Steele Canyon was 16th with 41 points while Granite Hills was 20th with 37 points. Valhalla was 21st with 36.5 points, while Monte Vista and West Hills tied for 33rd with 26 points.

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