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Three days before the start of the Central Coast Section Championships, Gilroy High senior Chase Saldate was at the American Kickboxing Academy wrestling with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. After two five-minute rounds, Saldate was exhausted. After all, not only was Saldate grappling with one of the all-time greats in UFC history, but he was giving up what he estimated to be 30 pounds. 

“After two live-go, five minute rounds, I was done,” Saldate said. “I was gassed by the second live go-around and was laying on the floor. They had to pick me up.”

Talk about the ultimate way to prepare for the season-ending high school wrestling tournaments, including the CIF State Championships at Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield last week.

“Going from wrestling Khabib and his cousin to high school kids is no comparison,” Saldate said. “The difference is insane.”

Saldate actually wrestled with the Nurmagomedovs for two hours, and it was the best preparation for the CCS and CIF State Championships. As expected, Saldate won his first state title to join past Gilroy High greats to have achieved that feat. But Saldate didn’t just win the title; he steamrolled the competition perhaps unlike any other Gilroy High wrestler in program history. 

To wit: Saldate won six matches, five by pinfall, and it could’ve easily been six pins. The only match that didn’t result in a pin came in the semifinals against Reymundo Raiz, which was a 14-0 major decision. However, Saldate had Raiz on his back for the majority of the match, and at one point Saldate actually looked at the referee during the match and said, ‘Is it a pin?’ 

“He looked at me with a blank face,” Saldate said.

Regardless, Saldate left no doubt as to why he’s the top-ranked 152-pounder in the nation by, recording four of his five pins in the first period. Saldate’s performance in the finals was his most impressive, as he pinned a tough opponent in Tyler Badgett at the 1 minute, 58 second mark. 

“I wasn’t planning on pinning Badgett; I was thinking about getting a major (decision),” he said. “But the way things fell is I got on top, turned him and got the pin.”

Saldate has a lethal arm bar, which has led to the majority of his pins this season. Once the referee hit the mat signaling a pin, Saldate screamed in jubilation and flexed before embracing Mustangs coach Daniel Cormier. 

“I was so hyped up, and as soon as I saw D.C. all happy, I got even more hyped,” he said. “I didn’t expect to win state (in such dominating fashion), but my confidence level has been pretty high. I’ve been feeling really good with my top game, and I’ve been pinning people with pretty much the same move all year.”

Saldate actually had a dream—or more like a nightmare—once he fell asleep several hours after his victory. In the dream, Saldate hadn’t won a state championship yet, and the anticipation was gripping him. 

“I was freaking out (in the dream),” he said. “I was dreaming that I hadn’t won it, when I knew I won it.”

Saldate said the practice session with the Nurmagomedovs was a great lesson in how to wrestle against different styles. During the practice session, Cormier kept on exhorting Saldate to shoot even if he didn’t get a takedown.

“It forced me to change my style and to have the mindset to attack all the time,” he said. “Going up against Khabib just sucks, but it’s a great experience as well. I went as hard as I could because D.C. was on me. These guys don’t gas out, and I’m over here dying.”

Saldate has one more big event approaching before he takes a little respite from wrestling until the summer. In two weeks, Saldate will be in Pennsylvania to compete in the Pittsburgh Wrestling Classic, which pits the best high school wrestlers from Pennsylvania against Team USA, or the best wrestlers from states outside of Pennyslvania.

Saldate will face the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds in Ed Scott, a North Carolina State commit. Saldate was a man on a mission after finishing as a state runner-up a year ago, and then he went out and showed just how motivated he was to finish the deal this season. Gilroy finished seventh in the team standings and had a couple of additional placers in Scotty Moore (sixth at 106 pounds), Henry Porter (third at 138), and Nicholas Villarreal (second at heavyweight). In the girls tournament, Gilroy senior Emmily Patneaud took third place with a 5-0 win over Fremont-Sunnyvale’s Annie Hua.

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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