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May 30, 2023

Gilroy High wrestling juggernaut aims for coveted state title

When it was time to move the rolled-up wrestling mats, Cody Merrill decided he could do a solo job. 

So he hoisted one up—picture someone in the Scottish Highland Games doing the caber toss—and carried it a few yards before the mat was eventually stored away. Merrill needed some extra heavy lifting after dominating his 195-pound match in the Mustangs’ home dual-meet opener against Salinas High on Jan. 12. 

The final team score was rather inconsequential—as expected, the Mustangs won every single contested match—but it was a chance for the Gilroy wrestlers to be together for a dual match for the first time this season after the Jan. 5 San Benito High contest was postponed due to Covid protocols. 

Previous to the Salinas match, Gilroy had competed in several tournaments, where wrestlers are scattered because their matches are going on simultaneously. In dual matches, only one match goes on at a time so everyone has a chance to watch and cheer each other on.

With little suspense or drama in any of the matches, it was an exhibition match that D.J. Huerta won via pinfall that got the team excited as they exploded out of their chairs and let out their biggest roar of the night.

“D.J. is a beginner and has only been on the team for a month, but he’s been putting in the work and you can see it in the match,” 120-pound standout Daniel Glenn said. “It’s great to see these guys even though they just started, they’re still winning and they love the chance to compete. We were all excited and it was awesome.”

That would be one way to describe Merrill’s season. The super sophomore is ranked No. 1 in the state and in the top 20 nationally, and he’s coming off a tremendous off-season in which he earned double All America honors at the prestigious Fargo Nationals last July.

Merrill placed second in freestyle and first in Greco roman, and also had a strong showing in another top-level national event. For Merrill, he’s aiming for the very top. 

“I’m looking to be the best in the nation and No. 1 by the end of the year,” he said. 

Merrill is built like a bull with the agility of a gymnast, making him an absolute nightmare matchup for the majority of his opponents. He’s expected to roll through the Central Coast Section and CIF State Championships, though he knows nothing is given and he has to maintain his maniacal work rate, in matches and in practice. 

“I need to stay sharp and not get overconfident,” he said. “I just want to get better and remember I’m not No. 1 in the country so I always have room to improve.”

Merrill took up judo before focusing on wrestling at age 10. Merrill said judo helped him transition to wrestling because some of the base fundamentals are similar. Merrill is the top-ranked wrestler on a Gilroy team loaded with talented athletes. 

The Cortez twins—Elijah and Isaiah—are two of the top freshmen in the state regardless of weight class. Both are lightning quick and technically sound. Glenn, who is co-ranked No. 2 in the section at 120 pounds along with teammate Scotty Moore, is plenty motivated after getting beat out for a spot to compete in the CCS Championships as a freshman two years ago, the last time the event was contested. 

Glenn was having a strong season when he got beat for the spot, and he doesn’t plan on letting that happen again. 

“This year I want to show what I missed out in freshman year and compete in the postseason,” he said. 

Glenn’s sister, Valerie, is the section’s top-ranked girl at 121 pounds. She recently took first in the Albany Tournament and the two push each other to be the best. Valerie is part of a strong Gilroy girls team that includes Jennifer Soto (131) and Kaiulani Garcia (160), who are the top-ranked girls in the section in their weight classes. 

Daniel Glenn often partners up with Elijah Cortez in practice, which is often tougher than their dual matches. The Mustangs generally go two-deep in each weight class so practices tend to be fierce and exhausting. 

The Mustangs are coming off a solid fourth-place showing in the Five Counties Tournament at Fountain Valley High Jan. 14-15. Merrill and the Cortez brothers each won titles, while Micah Doug Porter and Moses Mirabal took third for a team missing four starters. 

Glenn and Merrill said there’s something special about being a part of the Gilroy wrestling juggernaut. The program’s motto is Chasing Greatness, the phrase they have printed on their team long-sleeve shirts. As winners of 18 consecutive CCS titles, the Mustangs have accomplished just about everything except the two goals they’re chasing: to win state and become No. 1 in the nation. 

To get to No. 1 in the nation, the Mustangs must first win the CIF State Championships. They have finished as the runner-up three times, narrowly missing out on the title in 2008 when they totaled 113 points to Clovis’ 118.5. 

“We want to get that state championship because we’ve been missing that,” Glenn said. “And right now I think we have a really good team so I think this is the time to cash in and do what we know we can do as a team now and in the years to come.”

Cody Merrill is the state’s top-ranked wrestler at 195 pounds and top-20 nationally. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Micah Doug Porter is ranked No. 1 in the CCS and No. 11 in the state at 160 pounds. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Freshman sensation Isaiah Cortez is ranked No. 1 in the CCS and No. 7 in the state at 106. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.

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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