High stakes drama unfolds in Bakersfield

Gilroy’s Adin Dueñas lays exhausted and disappointed after his

I never really understood the appeal of wrestling until I made
the trip to Bakersfield for the State Championships this past
weekend.
I didn’t know the rules, didn’t know the difference between a
near fall and a technical fall, couldn’t tell the difference
between a major decision and a decision
I never really understood the appeal of wrestling until I made the trip to Bakersfield for the State Championships this past weekend.

I didn’t know the rules, didn’t know the difference between a near fall and a technical fall, couldn’t tell the difference between a major decision and a decision. The scoring seemed confusing to me and I couldn’t understand how these athletes managed to endure the stress they put on their bodies in order to make weight.

But I’ve returned home with a new-found respect for the sport that used to baffle me. Not only that, I am very much looking forward to next year’s wrestling season to see how our local squads fare after another year of experience and growth.

This year’s state finals saw some incredible performances from our area’s high-school grapplers. And, while top-notch performances from local athletes seem to be the norm in this part of California, there was definitely something special happening at the Centennial Gardens in Bakersfield on Friday and Saturday.

Both Gilroy High and San Benito High had tremendous showings at the state tournament. Hollister’s Ryan Dunn, only a junior, dominated his first two matches before falling out of contention in the ultra-competitive 215-pound division.

The Mustangs of Gilroy had a historical showing at the event. Coach Armando Gonzalez’s team took home four medals and a sixth-place overall finish against the best wrestlers in the state. Even more impressive was the performance of freshman Hunter Collins, who made history by becoming the heaviest freshman, at 160 pounds, to ever medal at the tournament.

It wasn’t just the extremely high level of competition on display in Bakersfield that impressed me, it was also the way in which the athletes and their coaches approached the whole thing.

From the coaches, who sat right on the corner of the mat during their wrestler’s matches, it was nothing but support, win or lose, when they took off the headgear.

For the athletes, winning was all that mattered. When victorious, their joy was palpable, despite their best efforts to contain themselves from celebrating. But in defeat, their sadness couldn’t be hidden. I thought that Chris Riley’s photo on page B2 of Saturday’s Dispatch beautifully illustrated the emotions that come with losing at the state level.

There are so few winners at the tournament. And by winning, I’m talking about the first place that each of the athletes is gunning for. So many take home lesser medals or none at all. It truly amazed me that so many of these kids seemed so heartbroken after their runs through the bracket came to an end. After all, they had made it this far, only to come up short.

Everywhere I walked in the bowels of the Centennial Gardens – as I went from the media workshop, to the staging area to the hospitality room where meals were being served – there was a kid sitting against a cold cement wall, sobbing with his head in his hands.

Each time I passed one of these athletes, I wanted to say, “Hey, cheer up. You’re among the best of the best here. There’s no shame in defeat when you’ve proven yourself worthy of even being at this level at all.”

It’s corny, I know. Sorry about that.

Back to the very-bright future for area wrestling programs. Dunn will no doubt be back at state, possibly as a heavyweight, next season. As will each of the five members of the Gilroy squad. Obviously, Collins has another three years to go and will no doubt contend for a first-place finish sometime during his career. Armando Gonzalez, who took third at 135 pounds, has another year to go, as does seventh-place medalist Adin Dueñas at 130 pounds. Both Nicolo Naranjo and Austin Gubrud will be juniors next season. Gubrud’s weekend, which saw him fall out of the running with a pair of losses on Friday, served as a learning experience. Naranjo, who scored the most points for the Mustangs with four pins on his way to a third-place finish at 103 pounds, will further bolster Gilroy’s dominance of the lower-weight classes.

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