State wrestling: Newman’s Klee in contention for title

P.J. Klee of Cardinal Newman lifts Trent Nicholson of Kimball High School (Tracy) in their 152-pound match Friday at the CIF State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield. (JOHN SACHS /

P.J. Klee of Cardinal Newman lifts Trent Nicholson of Kimball High School (Tracy) in their 152-pound match Friday at the CIF State Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield. (JOHN SACHS /


BAKERSFIELD — Two Redwood Empire wrestlers survived the first day of competition at the CIF State Boys Wrestling Championships at Rabobank Arena on Friday. It may not have been the two you expected.

Cardinal Newman’s PJ Klee (who is wrestling at 152 pounds), considered a contender for the Empire’s first state title in eight years, cruised through his four matches and never appeared less than in control. But Windsor’s Perez Perez (113 pounds), vying for a podium finish in his second trip to Bakersfield, lost consecutive matches and exited much earlier than expected.

“His first loss he was flat,” Windsor coach Rich Carnation said. “His second loss he knew he was flat, and he was trying to press the action. You could see he was forcing stuff. It’s very uncharacteristic. I don’t know if he’s maybe coming down with a little flu or something. His energy is usually second to none.”

Perez was outpointed 11-4 by Oakdale’s Nico Colunga in the third round of the consolation bracket, and was ousted from this double-elimination tournament.

The other local wrestler who lived to grapple another day is Ukiah senior Pablo Gonzalez, a much-improved heavyweight who won his first two matches here to improve his record to 40-1 this year, before being pinned 1:46 into his match against Carlsbad’s Chance Eskam.

Gonzalez started his day by going nose to nose with the one kid who had beaten him before Friday, Miguel Villanueva of Madera South. Gonzalez lost to Villanueva in the Midlands Tournament, then came back to beat him in overtime at the same event. This time Gonzalez pinned him in the second round.

What a testament to the development of Gonzalez, a self-described “thug” as a freshman who wound up 45 credits behind in his coursework at Ukiah High. Wildcats coach Gary Cavender convinced Gonzalez to try football and wrestling, took the kid under his wing and now Gonzalez is just two credits behind.

He said he worked harder than ever this week, getting up early to run a mile in his neighborhood before school each day.

“I don’t like to lose,” Gonzalez said. “Every time in the practice room when I’m getting tired and I feel like, not quitting, but like taking a break when the coach is not looking, I think of the Clovis (heavyweight), Nick Nevills — like, ‘Man, that kid’s not taking any breaks at all.’ And so that just pushes me to train a lot harder.”

Klee, on the other hand, has been raised for success on the mat. He’s a nationally ranked wrestler who spent 2½ years at Blair Academy in New Jersey, missed a year of high school competition when he transferred back home to Cardinal Newman and now expects to emerge with a state championship.

“I didn’t really feel like I was in too much danger at all today,” said Klee, who won his first match with a pin and his next two on technical falls. “I felt a little lethargic in the early rounds. I knew the Poway kid (Cody Doyle) was going to be tough in the quarterfinals. Now on to the semis and the finals tomorrow, hopefully.”

Klee’s day will begin with a match against Nolan Kistler of Martin Luther King High in Riverside. The winner of that one will wrestle for the title in the evening.

Perez’s departure wasn’t the only disappointment for Windsor. The Jaguars won the North Coast Section team championship a week ago, but found the going much tougher here. Noah Au-Yeung (120 pounds) won two matches in the consolation bracket before being eliminated. Teammates Trevor Silva (138) and Paris Henry (195) mirrored one another’s results, losing, then winning, then losing.

Silva went down swinging. He had injured his right knee at the NCS championships, and limped through his matches here. He was down 3-0 in the third round of his final match against Tyler Lawrence of Escalon when the leg finally gave out and Silva defaulted. He was attended to by on-site trainers, and could barely walk to the staging area.

Windsor is currently 50th in the team standings, with 14 points — a total that will not grow Saturday. Cardinal Newman is tied for 42nd with 16 points, garnered solely by Klee. Perennial power Clovis leads the competition with 117 points.

Healdsburg’s Ian Black also won one match Friday, and he did it in dramatic fashion, scoring a takedown with one second left to beat Sutter’s Jason Ingram 5-3.

Three Empire wrestlers — Rancho Cotate’s Brian Guerrero (120 pounds), Ukiah’s Dray Payne (160) and Lower Lake’s William Isaacs (285) — will leave Bakersfield without a victory. Each of them went 0-2 on Friday, leaving their coaches to remind them of the stellar seasons that got them this far.

Each had at least one narrow loss. Guerrero fell 3-0 to Del Oro’s Jansen Englebrecht and Payne lost to Redlands East Valley’s Blake Stevenson 5-3, both in the opening consolation round. Isaacs came even closer to victory. In his first match, the junior lost 3-1 when Woodcreek’s Dominic Balmer, a top-10 wrestler in the heavyweight division, got a takedown to end the match. Isaacs led his second match 3-1 going into the final round, but lost 5-4 to Overfelt’s Tommy Saetern.

Isaacs, a junior, didn’t start wrestling until high school.

“I told him at the end, ‘Look, I’m proud of you,’” Lower Lake coach Ed Fuchs said. “And he was like, ‘Well, I’m not.’ And I go, ‘Look, that last one, you made one little mistake. I’m not going to be not proud of you.’”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or


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