Gilroy High’s Coby Merrill sat expressionless as he got back in clean clothes during the Central Coast Section Masters Finals tournament Feb. 18 at Watsonville High.
Judging by his posture, one would’ve never guessed the freshman had just won the 195-pound weight class title in dominating fashion. Then again, Merrill has bigger goals in mind.
“I’m happy about this win, but the main goal is State so this is a stepping stone to the bigger goal which is State and something I really want to win,” said Merrill, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler in the upper weights.
As expected, the Gilroy High juggernaut rolled to another CCS title, extending an ongoing record with its 22nd championship. The Mustangs have won every CCS Championship since the 2002-2003 season, an unfathomable streak of 20 consecutive titles (no tournament was contested in 2021 due to Covid).
And though Gilroy didn’t come close to breaking its own record for points scored, its 279 point total easily outdistanced runner-up Los Gatos which had 228.5. Nonetheless, the Mustangs had individual title winners in Isaiah Cortez at 120 pounds, Elijah Cortez (126), Moses Mirabal (138), Maxximus Martinez (152), Micah Doug Porter (170) and Merrill.
They also had second-place finishers in Dominic Bozanic (106), Daniel Zepeda (132), Travis Grace (160), Juan Carlos Puga (182), and a fourth-place showing from heavyweight Jose Guerrero. The top three in each weight class advance to the CIF State Championships Feb. 23-25 at Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield.
Another local notable, Christopher’s Logan Corona, earned a State berth by taking third at 182 pounds. Corona’s top game was on point which led to a pin at the 2:38 mark.
Every GHS wrestler except Guerrero earned a top 16 seed for State, led by the Cortez brothers who are the top seeds in their respective weight classes. They were followed by Zepeda (2), Martinez (3), Mirabal (6), Porter (6), Grace (7), Bozanic (12), Merrill (13) and Puga (15).
The GHS girls also delivered a powerhouse CCS Masters performance, with title winners Tamara Grace (126), Mary Jane Porter (131), Valerie Glenn (137) and Kaiulani Garcia (150) leading the way. They all qualified for State as did Jordyn Perez, who took fourth at 121 pounds.
Garcia earned a No. 3 seed, Glenn and Porter a No. 5 and Grace a No. 6 seed for State. Despite having small numbers, GHS took second place to champion Evergreen Valley. One of the neat storylines for the GHS program is it’s truly a family affair.
There are two sets of siblings headed to Bakersfield: Micah Doug and Mary Jane Porter and Travis and Tamara Grace. Garcia and Glenn also have brothers on the team. Tamara, a rising freshman star, credited Travis for her success.
“Most of my accomplishments is a credit to him,” she said. “He pushes me to be the best in the state.”
Grace crushed her opponents en route to the CCS title, recording pins in 12 seconds, 32 seconds and 22 seconds before a decisive 9-2 decision victory in the final against Aptos’ Janie Houser, who she had beaten a week prior in the Southern Regional by pinfall in 41 seconds.
“I didn’t wrestle how I wanted to because I wanted to pin her obviously, but it still feels great to win,” Grace said. “I was so excited going into this tournament. I love competing, love getting out there and doing all of this.”
Mary Jane Porter is establishing her own mark in a family with a rich wrestling lineage. Her dad, Kyle, won state titles in 1991 and 1992 at 145 pounds while prepping at Hughson High near Modesto. Her oldest brother, Henry, was a third-place finisher at State at 138 pounds in the 2020 Championships.
And Micah, of course, has been a stalwart on the boys team for the past four years. Mary Jane had to fend off a potent shoot from Monterey’s Ella Myers in the final 20 seconds to cement a pulse-pounding 2-0 decision victory.
Just a week earlier, Porter lost to Myers in the semifinals of the Southern Regionals, 6-3. However, Porter was confident going into the rematch the outcome would be different because of what she learned from their first encounter. That’s what made her victory all the more sweet.
“For that [regional] match I chose bottom, she turned me and I think once that happened I was out of the match and I was in shock,” Porter said. “For this [Masters] match I stayed focused, and my dad helped me beforehand work stuff on my bottom game.”
Incredibly enough, this is Porter’s first year of wrestling competition. A rare high school athlete who competes in two sports during the same season—Porter is also a standout on the girls soccer team—she only started training last March after her dad encouraged her to try the sport out.
“I said, ‘OK, why not,’ and here I am,” she said. “For the first year a lot of people didn’t expect much. My goal was to just go out there and do my best. That’s all I can do and anyone can ever ask for. It’s been a lot of hard work and it’s paying off now.”
Porter said growing up with Henry and Micah toughened her up, both physically and mentally.
“It was really competitive growing up,” she said. “They pushed me toward competition and made me athletic by making me go outside and play games. Having two older brothers wasn’t easy, but it strengthens you.”
Micah repeated as CCS champion but was more dominant this time around. He won his first two matches in under a minute and recorded a 5-0 decision in the semis before a decisive 15-0 technical fall victory in the finals match.
“This title obviously was more of a dominant win, so it felt good to show my new skills,” he said. “It’s focusing on what I really needed to improve on like getting my offense moving a lot better and putting the pace on these guys that led to my success.”
Porter said he expects no less than being on top of the podium at State in his final go-around of prep competition.
“Anything less would be a disappointment to end my season,” he said. “I’m looking to be the best so I’m going there to win.”
So is Merrill, who is a highly accomplished nationally-ranked wrestler but only earned a No. 13 seed at State in part because he’s only competed in a couple of tournaments this season.
“I haven’t wrestled much at all, so I feel like I did well [considering],” he said. “My cardio is a little bit down but once it gets back up there, things will start to flow even more.”
Merrill has a close relationship with older brother Cody, who suffered an injury before the Southern Regional and thus wasn’t able to take the mat for what likely would’ve been a repeat performance in winning CCS and state titles.
“Cody is great inspiration for me,” Coby said. “He used to be my training partner in the room, but since he’s been hurt, I realized I have to do it myself. We were planning that after I win state, he would win state right after me. But that’s not going to happen. But I should be able to do it by myself with my brother at my side always watching me, though.”
Mirabal has been on his game in the postseason. In the Southern Regionals, Mirabal recorded four pins in four matches with a cumulative mat time of 2 minutes, 8 seconds. In the Masters Finals, Mirabal had a pair of pins in 30-and 35 seconds sandwiched in between a 15-0 technical fall victory. Against a very tough opponent in St. Francis’ Matt Luna, Mirabal made it look easy in a 5-0 victory.
Elijah Cortez was involved in one of the more competitive title matches of the night going up against St. Francis junior Bryce Luna. Cortez recorded a 2-1 overtime victory, utilizing an escape and then preventing Luna from an escape from bottom to secure the win.
Cortez said he was pleased with the speed of his attacks and was visibly excited afterward, as he and Luna had faced off twice already this season with each winning a match.
“We were 1-1 and since he had the last win, I wanted that get-back so I’m truly enjoying this,” Cortez said. “I knew I could ride him out. I knew in my Father, Jesus Christ, that anything was possible and through Him I got that victory.”
Martinez also said his faith helped spearhead him to victory.
“I believe in God and I know God is with me,” he said. “I know I can win state as long as I believe in Him and believe in myself.”
Martinez was flat-out dominant in both the Regional and Masters Finals, winning six of his eight matches by pin, one by major decision and the last by a decisive 8-2 decision.
“For me it’s just keeping my composure, wrestling within my ties, not getting in scrambles and taking it one match at a time,” he said. “Now it’s time to get mine at State.”
Garcia is also primed to win State, having finished as the runner-up at 160 pounds in last year’s event. The junior barely had to break a sweat in the Regionals or Masters tournaments, winning each match by pinfall, including six in a minute or less.
“I was wrestling well and I rode on top really tough,” Garcia said. “I got up really easy and my feet game was really good, so I felt really good in how I wrestled.”
Perhaps no one showed more determination than Glenn, who earned a 4-3 decision victory in the 137-pound championship match. Glenn had come relatively close to winning the last two times the event was contested, starting in the 2020 Championships when she took third at 106 pounds.
Facing the same opponent who she beat just a week earlier in the Regionals by a decisive 10-3 score, Glenn was involved in a gritty, tough battle from the get-go. But her resolve and experience paid off in the end.
“I’m very proud because I’ve been working on this a long time and came up short the last two times,” she said. “I’ve really pushed myself this year and it helps that we have a lot of talented girls in the room and we’re able to push each other and build off each other’s skills.”