For Moses Mirabal, it was personal.
Wrestling in the 138-pound title match in the Mid-Cals Classic tournament on Jan. 21, the Gilroy High junior was squaring off against an opponent from Oklahoma power Tuttle High. Just two-and-a-half weeks earlier, Mirabal lost a close match in a home duel with Bixby High, another Oklahoma power.
So, it’s no wonder once Mirabal came away with a riveting 4-2 overtime victory over Beau Hickman, he pointed to his chest and then pumped his fist in celebration. To get to the final, Mirabal rolled to a 7-1 win over Will Heger of El Reno-Oklahoma High in the semifinals.
“When we wrestled Bixby, it was embarrassing losing in front of my city, a city that cares for us and supports our wrestling,” Mirabal said. “To be able to come back and get revenge on a couple of Oklahoma boys in front of my city, in front of my family, in front of my friends, means a lot.”
Against Hickman in the Sudden Victory one-minute overtime period, where the first point scores wins, Mirabal got a takedown with 23 seconds remaining. Mirabal unleashed an Iranian finish, a move he credited to Gilroy assistant coach Deron Winn for helping him polish.
“I learned that from coach Deron,” Mirabal said. “You pick them up and put them on their back for an easy two [points].”
Hickman had some good riding time during the match, but Mirabal wasn’t fazed.
“He had me ridden out pretty well, he’s a tough rider and he got his legs in,” Mirabal said. “But in the third period I knew he wasn’t going to take me down. There’s no way someone who wrestles like that is going to take me down. He didn’t want to put his hands on me as soon as I got my hands on him.”
The Mustangs, who didn’t enter their entire A lineup, nonetheless finished second to Tuttle in the team standings. Three other Gilroy wrestlers won individual titles, including Elijah Cortez (126), Travis Grace (160) and Cody Merrill (285).
Dominic Bozanic (106), Daniel Glenn (126) and Oscar Alfaro (182) had runner-up finishes, while Ryan Garcia, Jose Limones, Kaleo Garcia and Ray Waller also placed. The GHS girls team also shined, finishing just nine points behind first-place Golden Valley.
Valerie Glenn (137 pounds) and Kaiulani Garcia (150) led the Mustangs by winning titles in their respective weight classes. The two have been dominant all season, particularly Garcia, who is ranked in the top-10 nationally and competed in last year’s U17 Greco-Roman World Championships.
Glenn’s brother, Daniel, was in tough against teammate Elijah Cortez in an all Gilroy 126-pound final. Glenn competed well but Cortez was simply too tough, utilizing a single leg to score a couple of takedowns and maintain control throughout en route to the 7-0 decision.
Cortez said the match resembled what happens in the GHS wrestling room, as there is fierce competition daily.
“We scrap with each other and we both gave a great effort in the match,” he said.
Cortez rotates training partners in practice, including his twin brother Isaiah, Glenn, Moses Mendoza, and Daniel Zepeda. Ranked No. 3 in the state in his weight class, Cortez felt good about his Mid-Cals performance, as he went a perfect 6-0.
“I was pretty impressed with my wrestling,” he said. “I was a lot more patient and calm and I would say the path I’m on right now, I definitely have a state title in the near future.”
Grace also was pleased with his tournament run, as he recorded a 15-0 technical fall win in his opening match before rolling off four consecutive pins en route to the final. With the score 1-1 and time winding down, Grace got under Tuttle’s Ethan Teague to score on a takedown with 20 seconds to go.
Teague got an escape to account for the final 3-2 score, but it wasn’t enough as Grace prevailed in a highly competitive match.
“That last takedown, I knew I had more heart than him,” Grace said. “I wanted it more, especially in front of my hometown. You have to represent, you have to show up no matter what and that was the difference.
This one especially means a lot to me. We don’t get many home appearances in general, and especially as a freshman, to be able to have this experience and run through a tournament like this is really cool.”
Grace had a bruised elbow and a nice shiner below his right eye as a result of the title match. No one said wrestling was for the faint of heart.
“It takes a special type of person, a different breed, to wrestle at a high level,” he said. “You understand suffering and become friends with it.”
Merrill is no stranger to sacrificing his body for long-term gains. Competing in just his second tournament of the season as he recently got cleared making the transition from online learning to on-campus classes, Merrill showed why he’s a world medalist and defending state champion.
He destroyed the 285-pound Mid-Cals field, recording four wins—all by pinfall—in 14 seconds, 39 seconds, 1 minute, 2 seconds and 54 seconds, respectively. The junior standout competed at 195 pounds last season and was planning on wrestling at 220 this season.
“I wasn’t planning to go heavyweight, but things change and you have to make the best of it,” he said.
Merrill suffered a back injury last April, but it didn’t prevent him from earning a bronze medal at 92 kilograms (202 pounds) in last year’s Greco-Roman U17 World Championships, helping Team USA to its highest finish ever in the discipline.
Merrill isn’t at a disadvantage wrestling up a weight class because of his superior power and agility. Besides, when you’re Merrill and grappling with GHS head coach and UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier in the room, nothing is going to faze you.
“The heavyweights vs. the 220s, guys are a little slower, a little stronger, but not as fast,” he said. “But it’s something I go through on a daily basis with my coaches. My coaches are around that size so I’m used to wrestling the big guys. It’s something I enjoy. I can go at my own pace, work on my own attacks, whatever I want to do, I can control the match and I know I’m better at positioning than most guys. … I think I was a pretty good example of what Gilroy wrestling is all about.”