January is a critical month for high school wrestling teams.
Some of the biggest tournaments are in January and the league duel season begins. The best programs like Gilroy High go through a gauntlet and by the time February rolls around the Mustangs will know where they stand and what they need to improve on to reach their goal of contending for a state championship.
The Mustangs had a rather eventful first week of January. They faced off with Bixby High of Oklahoma in the Garlic City Rumble on Jan. 4, narrowly losing the duel, 30-29. Gilroy entered the contest ranked No. 11 in the country and Bixby was No. 17.
Two days later, the top GHS wrestlers were competing at Clovis High in the renowned Doc Buchanan Invitational, which is widely regarded as one of the top-5 tournaments in the nation. Gilroy (156 points) finished fifth in the team standings, behind champion Buchanan, Palm Desert, St. John Bosco and Bergen Catholic of New Jersey.
GHS had two champions—Moses Mendoza at 116 pounds and Isaiah Cortez at 123—a runner-up in Daniel Zepeda at 135 pounds, a fourth-place finish from Elijah Cortez at 129 pounds and a seventh-place result from Moses Mirabal at 141 pounds.
Dominic Bozanic, Micah Doug Porter, Juan Carlos Puga, Maxximus Martinez, Zack Fierro and Travis Grace also competed in the Doc B. Invite. Isaiah Cortez, who is ranked No. 2 in the state at 120 pounds, went 5-0 in a spectacular run that saw him beat state No. 3 Nikade Zinkin of Clovis in the final, 7-0.
Cortez prevailed in a loaded field that featured the state’s top four ranked wrestlers. In the Bixby duel, Cortez won via pinfall with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in the third period. Cortez placed third in the CIF State Championships last year as a freshman at 106 pounds and after the Doc B. result has to be regarded as the favorite to win State.
“Isaiah is as consistent as they come,” Mustangs coach Daniel Cormier said.
Cormier said Cortez’s twin brother Elijah is a bit undersized wrestling at 126 pounds this season after being in the 113-pound division last year. So, even though that has resulted in more defeats for Elijah this season, Cormier is no less proud.
“Elijah has taken some L’s because he’s a little undersized still, but for the team he’s wrestling where he’s at and doing fantastic,” Cormier said.
What Cormier loves about the Cortez twins is their passion for the sport.
“They just live and breathe wrestling,” he said. “When I watch wrestling, I call them and kind of go, ‘Did you see that?’ Because I know if anyone is paying attention closely, it’s Isaiah and Elijah.”
Mendoza was the No. 4 seed at Doc B., but by the end, the freshman showed he was the best in the 116-pound field. Mendoza had a dominant run, recording two falls and a 12-1 major decision over Edwin Sierra of Poway in the quarterfinals. Mendoza then knocked off top-seed Mack Mauger of Blackfoot, Idaho, 7-4, in the semifinals before winning by that identical score in the championship match against Antonio Rodriguez of Los Gatos.
Mendoza couldn’t compete in the Bixby duel because he missed weight, though Cormier took full responsibility for it, citing a scale issue. Cormier said he was happy with his team’s performance given the fact it had to forfeit matches in a couple of different weight classes.
He noted the atmosphere of the event as it was well-attended and streamed live via his YouTube channel.
“The energy from the crowd was fantastic,” Cormier said. “The live stream had over 1,000 people watching it live; it was amazing. I thought it was special for the kids to be in front of a crowd like this, to wrestle in an event like this.”
Zepeda beat his Bixby opponent and then shined in Doc B., highlighted by a 6-4 decision win in the semifinals over Sobrato’s Aden Valencia, a Stanford-commit who recently won the Reno TOC college division. Zepeda then lost in the final 5-4 to one of the top-ranked wrestlers in the nation.
Powerful, skillful and tenacious, Zepeda epitomizes the GHS program.
“Daniel Zepeda is a Gilroy boy,” Cormier said. “The blue runs through his blood.”
Cormier also noted the performances of Bozanic, Grace, Martinez, Porter, Oscar Alfaro and Kaleo Garcia in the Bixby duel. Bozanic won his match despite persistent leg cramps, Garcia lost but competed tough against the No. 18-ranked wrestler in the nation, and Alfaro was competing for the first time all season and won his match.
Cormier said winning the program’s first-ever state championship is always at the forefront when it comes to team goals. GHS has been runner-up in State three times, in 2008, 2018 and 2019. In 2008, Clovis edged GHS for the team title, 118.5-113. The Mustangs’ highest scoring point totals came in 2018 and 2019, but it was bested by Buchanan both times by wide margins.
Buchanan has become the dominant program in the State and this year has looked every bit as its state No. 1 ranking. In time, GHS looks to do the same. Cormier loves this year’s group and sees special things ahead.
“Most of the kids just love wrestling and that’s what makes this team so special,” Cormier said. “This is the best Gilroy team we’ve ever had and I promise it’ll show that at the end of the year.”