Gilroy’s wrestling dominance continues

The Mustangs' Chase Saldate, seen here in earlier action this season, won his second straight MBL championship last Friday.

For nearly two decades, Gilroy High has been the premier wrestling program in the Central Coast Section, collecting an unrivaled 15 consecutive Central Coast Section championships. The Mustangs also have another ongoing streak, just as long and as impressive in the Monterey Bay League Finals.

And if a 16th consecutive MBL title is any indication, a 16th consecutive CCS title could be in the cards as well. The Mustangs took the tournament with a score of 360 points, a staggering 139.5 points ahead of their nearest competitor, San Benito High.

Gilroy wrestlers took first place in 8 of the 14 weight classes, with 11 athletes getting to their respective weight class finals. Streaks were a recurring theme at the league finals. Just ask sophomore Chase Saldate, who notched his second straight MBL title, pinning Monte Vista Christian’s Eddie Zamora at the 3:46 mark in the 126-pound championship match.

“I wasn’t too nervous just because I wrestled that kid last year in my quarterfinals match at CCS,” he said. “But once the match started, it kind of hit me that our team is always trying to rack up as many points as possible.”

However, it didn’t take long for Saldate to realize that more was riding on his match than he had previously expected.

“As soon as the match started, I realized that, ‘Oh, I really need to pin this kid and get as many points as I can for the team,’ just because our 115-pounder had previously lost,” he said. “So that put a little bit of pressure on me. But after I got the first couple of takedowns, I didn’t really have any pressure at all.”

Saldate’s attention will turn to the CCS Championships on Feb. 23 at Independence High. After coming within inches of a CCS title last year, Saldate is looking to go all the way this year after his massive MBL win. When asked about what his ambitions for the rest of the postseason were, he confidently remarked, “Oh, state champs for sure. Definitely racking up CCS champ. My goal is to pin everyone through CCS and then definitely get to state and win it there.”

There’s no arguing that Gilroy is one of the most talented teams in the state, a testament to the coaching and leadership of coach Greg Varela, who has overseen the program since 2009.

“It was a good tournament, we wrestled well,” said Varela. “We’re coming down to the end of our season. The stakes are high and our team is good about handling the pressure, sticking together, with the older guys helping the younger guys.”

The supportive environment seems to be working, with Gilroy posting an impressive list of first place finishers, including senior and Rutgers College-commit Nic Aguilar (120 pounds), Alex Felix (132), Tony Andrade (195) and Nick Villarreal (285), all of whom won by pinfall. Freshman Jayden Gomez (106, 12-2 major decision), Daniel Vizcarra (138 6-0 decision), Nathan Villarreal (145), and Fox (152 16-0) also won titles.

Christoher High had one champion in senior Anthony Gomez, who won the 285-pound division, producing a pin over Gilroy’s Nicholas Villarreal with 20 seconds left in the match. Trailing 2-1, Gomez caught Villarreal out of position to score the pin and win in thrilling fashion. The runner-up in at 220 pounds last year, Gomez is focusing on taking titles at the CCS Championships and a podium finish in the CIF State Championships.

Though the countless hours before and after school on the mat certainly played a huge role on this massive victory for Gilroy, Varela is convinced that there is something more going on behind the scenes that make the program so successful.

“What’s happened is we go through our culture of winning and success, a brotherhood, it’s a culture of brotherhood and family, not just of winning and losing,” he said. “I think that’s what makes it easier for our guys to succeed, because there’s not so much pressure to win.”
Though Varela acknowledges that there are certainly pros and cons to being the undisputed best team in the CCS, he still makes sure to focus on providing the athletes with an environment that they feel comfortable with and can excel in.

“It’s not a business, we’re not just punching a clock, coming in here and working,” he said. “It’s a brotherhood: they love each other, lean on each other.”

Even though the Mustangs have enjoyed complete dominance at the upcoming CCS Championships for the past 15 years, Varela still stresses to the team about the importance of competition and never taking anyone lightly.
“For CCS, it’s getting tougher every year,” he said. “Our guys have personal goals, we have team goals and going into CCS we want to come out healthy. No. 1, we want to get to state; they only take the top three (individuals in each weight class) and there’s like 32 or 30 something {wrestlers} in each bracket, so we’ve got to get through to state.”

The Mustangs have high expectations, which they continue to exceed with each successive week.

“We’re looking good, our guys look strong, our goal for CCS is to win it, of course, punch everybody through to state and stay healthy,” Varela said. “I think those are goals we didn’t set a week ago, today or tomorrow, it’s something that we’ve had since day one.”