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February 2, 2023

GHS, Daniel Cormier Academy wrestlers make history in USMC Nationals

Gilroy High wrestlers have achieved lofty status over the years, both in California and nationally. 

But what the Mustangs did at the 2022 USA Wrestling Marine Corps Junior & 16U Nationals in North Dakota July 16-19 is at the very top of what they’ve accomplished since becoming a mat power. Six GHS wrestlers who were competing for coach Daniel Cormier’s wrestling academy earned All-American status, a record-breaking haul from a single school. 

The 16U Freestyle All-Americans include Cody Merrill, Coby Merrill, Isaiah Cortez, Elijah Cortez, Moses Mendoza and Travis Grace. Cody Merrill, an incoming junior, won the Junior category (age 17-18) at 195 pounds, a result that will certainly boost his ranking from the low 20s to a possible top-10 mark. 

Cormier was effusive in his praise for Merrill, who won the CIF State Championship at 195 pounds last season as a sophomore. In Fargo, Merrill beat the No. 1, 3, 6, 15 and 16th-ranked wrestlers in his weight class en route to the National Championship. 

Incredibly enough, Merrill left for Rome, Italy on July 23 to compete for Team USA in the U17 World Championships in the Greco-Roman discipline. 

“Most of the wrestlers who will be at Worlds don’t go to Fargo (because of the short turnaround),” Cormier said. “But Cody wanted to do it and he went through the toughest weight bracket in the tournament. He wrestled like the best kid in the country at that weight. He really turned some heads in this tournament.”

Merrill was in complete control in all of his matches except in the semifinals, where he won a white-knuckle 4-2 decision after scoring on a takedown with 25 seconds left to account for the final score. 

“It was tremendous,” Cormier said. “To be a national champion you have to go through those types of moments. Cody wrestled really hard and wanted it.”

As did the sensational and talented Cortez brothers, who are incoming sophomores. Isaiah (103 pounds) and Elijah (113) both placed third in their weight class. Isaiah lost in the semifinals to the second-ranked wrestler in the nation, 3-1, but he beat the third- and fifth-ranked guys to get a bronze medal. 

“Going into the tournament, Isaiah was eighth so this will bump up his ranking,” Cormier said. 

Elijah earned a bronze the hard way, losing in the quarterfinals which meant he had to wrestle several more matches just to get back to the championship bracket medal round. He did just that, impressing his coach. 

“Elijah thumped his way through the backside (of the bracket) and just battled,” Cormier said. “He proved once again why he’s long been one of the highest-ranked kids in the country.”

Speaking of highly ranked, Mendoza is part of an incoming freshman class that is as talented as any in the nation. He placed second at 113 pounds—losing a 12-9 decision in the title match—a year after winning bronze. Another incoming freshman and two-time Fargo placer, Grace, finished as the runner-up at 160 after a fifth-place showing in 2021. 

“Moses will be a starter for us next year and Travis wrestled a helluva tournament,” Cormier said. “I’m really proud of Travis and the advancements he’s making.”

Coby Merrill, the younger brother of Cody, is also an incoming freshman who took seventh at 182 pounds. Cormier took 11 wrestlers to Fargo, including incoming freshman Kaleo Garcia (145), sophomore Juan Carlos Puga (160), Daniel Zepeda (132), Ray Waller (160), Oscar Alfaro (182), and Micah Doug Porter (170), who is an incoming senior and a tenacious competitor. 

Cormier was proud of his athletes because they all competed in brackets of 120-plus wrestlers in one of the top tournaments in the nation. After the freestyle portion event was completed, all but three of the GHS wrestlers stayed to compete in Greco-Roman. 

By the time they’re finished with the Greco-Roman tournament, each wrestler would have competed in 15-20 matches. 

“They’re savages for doing that,” Cormier said. “You have to understand that when the kids are done after these tournaments, they’re barely recognizable because you get beat up. So they deserve whatever rest they get in the next couple of weeks. I’m happy as a coach because they’re all committed and they just love wrestling.”

Gilroy’s girls team is also a powerhouse and will return incoming junior Kaiulani Garcia, who finished as the state runner-up in March at 160 pounds. Garcia will be in Rome with Merrill to compete in the U17 World Championships. 

As proud as Cormier is of all the wrestlers in his Academy, they took equal pride when Cormier was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in May, with the ceremony taking place June 30 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 

“It was an exciting honor to be recognized in front of the world,” Cormier said. “My career was long and hard, and I went through some real battles. To be honored for that meant the world to me. All my family was there; it was truly something special. I always said it takes a village to build a champion and the entire village was there in recognition of my career.”

Cody Merrill, an incoming GHS junior, won the US Marine Corps Junior Freestyle title at 195 pounds. Merrill is currently competing in the World Championships in Greco-Roman in Italy. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cormier.
Incoming GHS sophomore twin brothers Isaiah and Elijah Cortez both took third in the 16 U Nationals. File photo.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee is the sports editor of the Los Gatan, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. An American High and University of Kentucky alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Gavilan College, various youth sports in south Santa Clara/San Benito counties and pro sports on occasion. Two decades of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. With the Weeklys/NewSVMedia group since 2013. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40 (7:24 mile pace), counts himself as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza. Coaches, athletic directors and parents are encouraged to report scores to [email protected]

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