Revolving door. Fountain of youth. Tradition. Good genes. Conveyor belt. Somehow, year in and year out, the Gilroy High wrestling team is rejuvenated. This season is no different. And as January creeps along – with Mid-Cals and the Tri-County Athletic League and Central Coast Section meets on the horizon, it’s about to get serious inside the Mustangs practice room at South Valley Middle School.
Demeanors start to change, practices intensify and joking around is saved for the van rides between meets. Third-year head coach Greg Varela can sense that turning point approaching.
“Around Mid-Cals, it’s our tournament, in front of our fans, with the best teams in the area, that’s when the room gets quieter,” Varela said smiling after Wednesday’s league dual victory over Alvarez. “It’s not nerves or anything like that. They just know it’s that time of year. They start pushing a little harder. They start turning it up.”
The program as a whole turned it up nearly a decade ago with its first of nine straight section championships. The throttle has been stuck at maximum ever since. Many thought, or hoped, in some cases, that string would be broken last season as the Mustangs ushered in a freshman class on the heels of saying goodbye to a loaded senior class.
Three of those freshmen, Niko Villarreal (138 pounds), Paul Fox (126) and Victor Olmos (120) won CCS titles. Villarreal placed third at the state championships – earlier in the season he became the second freshman (Jesse Delgado) to take first at the Doc Buchanan Invitational. Fox made the podium in eighth at the state tournament.
With the return of those three, and the addition of a couple wildcards in freshmen Jesse Vasquez, who has already been handed the No. 3 ranking in the section at 106 pounds, and Matt Penyascek, an up-and-coming 160-pounder already slotted at No. 6 in CCS, Varela has yet another young and hungry set of grapplers.
“We have been young for two years now. I have a lot of freshmen stepping in again,” Varela said. “This year’s freshmen, they are good, but as we are going through, I’m still trying to figure out what I have in them. We are trying to work it out in the room. At CCS every point counts. We are looking at these guys and making sure they are ready.
“I expect our horses to do their jobs,” Varela said. “There’s really no excuse if guys like Paul Fox and Niko don’t get to the finals and win it. And that brings a different kind of pressure.”
Pressure comes along with representing the blue and yellow. A Mustangs logo is as good as a target. Varela said, watching the kids deal with outside influences and coping with the inevitable responsibility that comes along with upholding the winning traditions has been an uplifting process.
“Last year, our big freshmen, no one expected some of what they did,” Varela said. “Now, as sophomores, they are supposed to win and people are gunning for them now. It’s a different level of pressure. It’s fun to watch these guys develop and work through those emotions. We have three sophomores ranked in state, that’s now and that’s the future. That’s huge. Those are young guys that have figured it out already and I hope they set the tone for those freshmen.”
Though Villarreal, Olmos and Fox could be considered veterans, the Mustangs do have a core of grapplers with more than one year of varsity under their belts.
Led by senior Willie Fox (145), a three-time state qualifier, who some consider one of the best wrestlers to have not medeled at state, plus two-time state qualifier and 2010 CCS champ junior Leif Dominguez (113), and seniors Aaron Gonzalez (132 pounds) and Jose Lara (heavyweight), the Mustangs are again the favorites to defend the section crown for a 10th time. The Mustangs did lose defending section titleholder Blake Kastl, who moved out of state.
“Honestly, we try not to push, state, state, state in September, October. That will drive them insane,” Varela said. “We just kind of let that take care of itself. They know. You can see it. They are hard-working kids, they love each other, they look out for each other. These guys take care of themselves. They are a great bunch.”
• So far, the Mustangs have a fourth-place finish at the Chukchansi Invite, a 13th at the Reno Tournament of Champions and a second at the California Coast Classic.
• Olmos, Paul and Willie Fox, Villarreal and Lara will be at the state’s most competitive regular-season tournament, the Doc Buchanan Invitational this weekend, while the remainder of the team will be in Watsonville for the Apple Cider Classic.
• On Wednesday, Antonio Duran got the call up from the junior varsity to the varsity squad and took full advantage of the opportunity, picking up an exhilarating come-from-behind overtime decision in the Gilroy High wrestling team’s home debut against Tri-County Athletic League foe Everett Alvarez.
Duran forced overtime with a three-point near fall as the third-period buzzer sounded, sending the hometown fans into a frenzy. He then earned the match-winning take down seconds into the overtime period to put six points into the team total as the Mustangs cruised 64-9. Gilroy is now 2-0 in TCAL dual meets.
Aside from Duran’s crowd-pleaser in the 160-pound match, there wasn’t much wrestling to be done. The Eagles forfeited seven of the 14 matches, leaving most of the Mustangs without opponents.
Gilroy wrestlers were victorious in five of the seven matches that were whistled into action. Vasquez, up two weight classes at 120-pounds, picked up a first-period pin at the 59 second mark, Dominguez, also wrestling two classes above normal, pinned his challenger in the first, Trevor Marquez won by pin the second period and Julian Carbajal won 11-6.
Here’s where Gilroy and its wrestlers rank in the section andstate. Rankings are according to ccsrank.com as of Jan. 3. Thewebsite updates once per week. Gilroy is the only Central CoastSection team to crack the top-25 on the latest list.
Weight: CCS State
106: Jesse Vasquez No. 3 40th
113: Leif Dominguez No. 2 19th
120: Victor Olmos No. 1 11th
126: Paul Fox No. 1 6th
132: Aaron Gonzalez No. 1 12th
138: Niko Villarreal No. 1 3rd
145: Willie Fox No. 1 4th
152: Lupe Jimenez No. 10 –
160: Matt Penyacsek No. 6 –
170: Julian Carbajal No. 20 –
Hwt: Jose Lara No. 3 17th
Top-10 teams in CCS
1. Gilroy; 2. St. Francis; 3. Palma; 4. Serra; 5. Palo Alto; 6.Bellarmine; 7. Christopher; 8. Aptos; 9. Archbishop Riordan; 10.Cupertino.
Top-10 teams in California
1. Clovis (defending state champ and also won in 2008); 2.Bakersfield (2010 champ); 3. Poway (2009 champ); 4. Vacaville; 5.Gilroy (Best finish was 2nd in 2008); 6. De La Salle; 7. St. JohnBosco; 8. Lemoore; 9. Elk Grove; 10. Orland.