By ERIC WITTMERSHAUS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With many of its members still sporting hair dyed blue from last weekend’s NCS duals, the Rancho Cotate wrestling team captured a North Bay League title at Saturday’s league meet at Santa Rosa High.
In a gym filled with screaming fans, the Cougars jumped out to a huge points lead in the semifinal round, sending a meet-high nine wrestlers into the championships. The Cougars finished with 177.5 points. Second-place Maria Carrillo had 165 points.
The Pumas, who were far off the pace after the semifinals, closed the gap in part because of a strong performance in the consolation bracket, taking five of the 14 third-place matches. The Pumas had nine wrestlers aiming for third-place finishes.
In addition to making the Cougars sweat, Maria Carrillo’s wins ensured that coach Tim Bruce’s squad will be well-represented at NCS. The top three wrestlers in each class get automatic bids for next weekend’s meet in Newark, while the fourth-place wrestler goes as an alternate.
Bruce was pleased with how his squad rebounded after the semis. “We came through, and I was pleasantly surprised,” he said.
Although the Cougars’ dominance was the story of the semifinals, the finals went completely to form, with the top seed prevailing at each weight class.
One of the finals’ most convincing wins came from Rancho’s Anthony Navarro, the top-ranked wrestler in the Empire at 172 pounds. Navarro came out aggressively, nearly pinning Ukiah’s Kyle Wakeland, the third seed, before the announcer could finish introducing the wrestlers. It was Navarro’s second straight league title.
After the match, Navarro said he came out throwing caution to the wind, despite never having faced Wakeland before.
“I saw my two teammates lose their matches (right before), so I went out fired up,” he said.
Navarro hopes his experience will help him succeed at this year’s NCS.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect” at NCS, he said. “This year, I have a plan.”
Also facing an unfamiliar opponent was Montgomery’s Denny Layden, who took a more cautious approach than Navarro in beating Rancho’s Erick Arango in the 106-pound class.
“The first round, you just have to study to see what their strength and weaknesses are,” he said after his 4-0 win.
Arango, a sophomore, was pleased to be heading to NCS.
“I feel like I learned a lot,” he said of his loss to Layden.
One of the most hard-fought matches was at 152, with Ukiah’s Chris Berg pinning Rancho’s Joey Clay.
“He came out a lot stronger than I expected,” said Berg, who credited his coaching staff’s emphasis on conditioning. “That’s always key to winning in close matches, even if the other guy is more technically sound.”
The NBL title capped off a great week for Berg, who also signed a letter of intent to play football for Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa. Berg starred at running back for the Wildcats and averaged nearly 100 yards a game.
In light of Maria Carrillo’s surge in the consolation bracket, Vincent Luis’ win over the Pumas’ Evan Bluestone, a sophomore, at 120 proved pivotal in helping the Cougars hang on.
The wiry Bluestone seemed to wriggle out of pin after pin, but Luis largely controlled the match, winning a 15-7 decision.
“I knew he was going to put up a pretty good fight, but I’ve been around the sport longer,” Luis said of the outcome.
Other winners for the Cougars included Brian Guerrero at 113 and Travis Swan at 195. Both are making return trips to NCS. Guerrero, the top-ranked wrestler in the Empire at his weight class, is hoping to make state after falling just short last year. Swan won the finals’ lone overtime match by decision.
Also heading to NCS for Rancho will be Chris Ortiz, who lost by technical fall to Cardinal Newman’s Chris Moreno at 145, and Ty Brantley, who lost to Montgomery’s Spencer Owen in the finals’ bloodiest match. The 160-pound match had to be stopped when Owen started bleeding profusely from the nose. Once play resumed, Owen held on for the victory, 18-9.
“I didn’t think I racked up that many points,” Owen said.
Although Maria Carrillo did most of its damage in the consolation bracket, two of the school’s wrestlers won their weight classes. Fabian Vasquez beat Cardinal Newman’s Sam Bernard at 138, while junior Dakota Albaum, wrestling his first season with the Pumas, beat Montgomery’s Matt Carter at 220. Both wins were by decision.
Vasquez, a senior, was pumped for NCS.
“I’m going to the second day,” he said after his win. “I’m going to get it done. It’s my last year.”
Cardinal Newman’s Pat McCormick came up big at 126 pounds when it counted most. McCormick wrestled as the NBL’s top seed, but his pin of Rancho’s Marcus Ward gave him his first-ever tournament win. Even better, it came with several of his brothers, two of whom are former wrestlers, in attendance.
“It’s cool to have them here for the support,” McCormick said.
In the 126 consolation bracket, Ukiah’s Chase Lynch pulled off the upset, beating Montgomery’s Sam Wren by decision. It was Lynch’s first win against Wren in three tries.
“All my hard work paid off,” he said.
Ukiah, which missed third place at Saturday’s meet by a single point, will send nine wrestlers to NCS, matching Rancho Cotate and Maria Carrillo. Montgomery had seven wrestlers place in the top three, as did Cardinal Newman.
Joining Berg in winning their weight classes for Ukiah were Dray Payne at 132 and Max Oswald at 182.
In the last match of the day, Montgomery heavyweight Giuliano Cattaneo pinned Ukiah’s Pablo Gonzalez to win his second league title.
Eric Wittmershaus is The Press Democrat’s online sports editor. You can reach him at 521-5433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
NBL league meet
AT SANTA ROSA HIGH SCHOOL
1. Rancho Cotate: 177.5
2. Maria Carrillo: 165.0
3. Montgomery: 145.0
4. Ukiah: 144.0
5. Cardinal Newman: 111.0
6. Piner: 20.5
6. Elsie Allen: 20.5
8. Santa Rosa: 13.0
Notable: With the league tournament win, Rancho Cotate (6-1 in dual meets) clinches the NBL team title, with Maria Carrillo (6-1) finishing second and Montgomery (5-2) third.
Individual results by weight class*
106: 1. Denny Layden, Montgomery; 2. Erick Arango, Rancho Cotate; 3. Joey Frazier, Cardinal Newman; 4. Lucas Azccarraga, Maria Carrillo
113: 1. Brian Guerrero, Rancho Cotate; 2. Joey Gradek, Ukiah; 3. Cody Sousa, Cardinal Newman; 4. Jose Delgado, Maria Carrillo
120: 1. Vincent Luis, Rancho Cotate; 2. Evan Bluestone, Maria Carrillo; 3. Bernardo Avalos, Ukiah; 4. Justin Aarhus, Montgomery
126: 1. Pat McCormick, Cardinal Newman; 2. Marcus Ward, Rancho Cotate; 3. Chase Lynch, Ukiah; 4. Sam Wren, Montgomery
132: 1. Dray Payne, Ukiah; 2. Roberto Mora, Elsie Allen; 3. Joe Reeves, Montgomery; 4. Eric Hanson, Maria Carrillo
138: 1. Fabian Vasquez, Maria Carrillo; 2. Sam Bernard, Cardinal Newman; 3. Alec Wren, Montgomery; Aiden Lynch, Santa Rosa
145: 1. Chris Moreno, Cardinal Newman; 2. Chris Ortiz, Rancho Cotate; 3. Ryan Hughes, Maria Carrillo; 4. Jake Forgy, Montgomery
152: 1. Chris Berg, Ukiah; 2. Joey Clay, Rancho Cotate; 3. Ramon Contreras, Maria Carrillo; 4. Florencio Tah, Elsie Allen
160: 1. Spencer Owen, Montgomery; 2. Ty Brantley, Rancho Cotate; 3. Jakob Delfino, Maria Carrillo; 4. Kevin Pardini, Ukiah
170: 1. Anthony Navarro, Rancho Cotate; 2. Kyle Wakeland, Ukiah; 3. Justin Perry, Montgomery; 4. Jacob Groesbeck, Maria Carrillo
182: 1. Max Oswald, Ukiah; 2. Tyler Carpenter, Cardinal Newman; 3. Sage Ritchie, Maria Carrillo; 4. Leonard Carter, Piner
195: 1. Travis Swan, Rancho Cotate; 2. Steve Crase, Maria Carrillo; 3. Alex Rodriguez, Ukiah; 4. Cyrus Corman-Gill, Santa Rosa
220: 1. Dakota Albaum, Maria Carrillo; 2. Matt Carter, Montgomery; 3. Jay Zimmer, Cardinal Newman; 4. Elijah Holton, Rancho Cotate
285: 1. Giuliano Cattaneo, Montgomery; 2. Pablo Gonzalez, Ukiah; 3. Marko Kovco, Maria Carrillo; 4. Daniel Kurtz, Rancho Cotate
*Top three wrestlers qualify for Feb. 24-25 NCS meet in Newark; 4th place is an alternate