State wrestling: Spotlight falls on 10 Empire competitors


There’s no mystery involved in figuring out what it took for 10 Empire wrestlers to reach the California Interscholastic Federation wrestling championships that begin today in Bakersfield.

“There are quite a few ingredients involved in separating the guys who can win a state championship from the others,” said Ukiah head coach Gary Cavender. “It takes mat skills, intelligence … but it really requires someone who hates to lose. A champion has invested so much time that they hate to lose … really hate it. It’s one thing to say you hate to lose, it’s another thing to do every single thing you can every single day to put yourself in the best position to win.”

Cavender is with 154-pounder Chris Berg and 184-pounder Max Oswald today as the two-day journey to state wrestling championships in 14 weight divisions starts. Oswald finished second in the North Coast Section.

Healdsburg coach Scott Weidemier is making his third trip to the state title meet with Adam Hendrickson, the top-seeded Empire wrestler who’s ranked No. 3 in California in the 147-pound weight class.

“Well, a kid like Adam has an awful lot of natural ability and he can win a state championship. But 75 percent of the kids in the state meet have a ton of natural ability,” Weidemier said. “What separates Adam the most is that competitive component. He’s absolutely driven to get to the state meet and then to succeed when he’s there. He has a love for the sport that lots of good kids don’t have. It’s fun for him to get himself into these pressure situations and then thrive.”

Hendrickson finished second in the NCS meet. He’s joined at the state meet by Healdsburg teammates Matthew Tsarnas (162) and Ricardo Sandoval (184).

Casa Grande’s Jack Fausone finished second in the NCS at 154 and ranks 14th in the state entering today’s opening rounds. He was slated to be joined in Bakersfield by heavyweight teammate Elijah Qualls, but Qualls hyperextended his knee at NCS. Empire wrestling coaches petitioned to get Willits’ Quintton Bowlds, the top-seeded heavyweight at NCS, into the state meet instead. The bid was denied by the CIF, which said it was too late to add Bowlds, designated an alternate after he finished fifth at NCS.

“He probably could have placed,” Casa Grande assistant coach Jim Pera said of Bowlds. “I feel terribly for everyone involved.”

El Molino’s Taryn Christiansen (184), Petaluma’s Tanner Berncich (197) and Maria Carrillo’s Dakota Albaum (222) also qualified for the state meet by finishing in the top four at the NCS tournament last week. Windsor’s Perez Perez (108) rounds out the Empire contingent. He finished third in Newark in NCS championship action.

The top eight finishers in each weight division in Bakersfield will earn state medals. After today’s opening rounds at Rabobank Arena, Saturday begins with final championship round qualifying matches. The consolation championships follow with the title matches set for late Saturday afternoon.

Hendrickson opens against Rosemead’s Alberto Flores, who is 37th in state rankings. The winner advances to, most likely, take on 16th-rated Ray Lomas of Central Catholic.

“Adam has wrestled in national meets, all sorts of big meets, so the pressure from the state meet won’t be an issue. He feels the pressure, but some kids just have that thing … whatever that thing is … Adam has it,” Weidemier said. “He has a love for the sport and God-given talent. He’s also very smart. He adjusts to what happens out on the mat. I like his chances just fine.”

Oswald is in only his second year wrestling, but carries with him something that might enable him to counter more experienced technical competitors in Bakersfield.

“His balance is off because he’s so young in his wrestling career,” Cavender said. “But he’s such an amazing athlete and he’s so physically strong that he can get away that in many cases. We took him to the Reno World Championships and he pinned the first two guys. He’s only wrestled for two years, but he beat the returning state champion this season. How does that happen? He’s just so strong and athletic. He just needs to avoid making mistakes that come with still being pretty inexperienced.”

Christiansen is another relatively inexperienced wrestler who finished fourth, losing to Sandoval, in the section meet.

“He’s in a great situation in his bracket,” El Molino coach Bill Borges said of the junior star. “I like Taryn’s chances because he wrestles a lightweight style at a heavier weight. He’s athletic. His takedowns are solid and his top position is very good.
“He’s still learning, but he has the ability to control a match. He’s prepared for this.”

Sandoval and Christiansen join Oswald in the 184-pound class.

“Ricardo was at the state meet last year. He’s in a tough spot in his bracket, but that experience from a year ago will help him,” Weidemier said. “He’s only wrestled a couple of years, but he has natural strength. He does three or four things, but he does them exceptionally well.”

Tsarnas is ranked seventh in California at 162.

“He’s not on a much different plane than Adam,” Weidemier said. “Matthew has always been talented. He has sound fundamentals, but he’s had confidence issues … which is weird for a kid as good as he is.”

Tsarnas opens with the biggest challenge facing an Empire star. He takes on the state’s top 162-pounder in Santa Fe’s Joey Davis.

“He has a tough match to start with,” Weidemier said. “But this type of meet is nothing new to him. He’s experienced and I think he’s got a fair chance to medal.”

Fausone opens against Folsom’s Isaias Diaz, ranked No.26 in the state. A win would vault him into an expected battle with 36th-ranked Jorge Gutierrez of Santa Ana. The tall, lean Casa Grande star is in position to do well in Bakersfield.

“Jack is an exceptional athlete,” Gauchos assistant coach Jimmy Pera said. “He has the ability to wrestle at the Division I level in college. He makes adjustments. He’s an incredibly intelligent wrestler who doesn’t make many mistakes out there.”

Berg could surprise at 154 pounds.

“He wrestles with Max in practice and beats him,” Cavender said of Berg’s workouts with the bigger Oswald. “Chris is a good technical wrestler. He could’ve been a section champion this year.”

Every wrestler at the state meet will feel the pressure and glare of a much brighter spotlight. The key will be not letting those things distract them.

“It’s just another wrestling tournament to us,” Cavender said of his Ukiah wrestlers. “It’s different, obviously, because it’s the state meet.”

Weidemier knows all that can go wrong in the state meet.

“At this time of year, kids are freaking out. It’s an entirely new venue for lots of them,” he said. “They panic sometimes. They feel the pressure. This isn’t new to our guys.”

Online Sports Editor Eric Wittmershaus contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Ted Sillanpaa at 526-8623 or