Every year, the goals for the Gilroy High wrestling program remain the same: to be the best team in California, and ultimately, the nation. The Mustangs are competitive every year with the top-ranked programs in the nation, and this season is no different. However, Mustangs coach Daniel Cormier is on a mission to elevate the program to newfound heights.
It’s one thing to rise to a section dynasty as Gilroy has done; however, it might be even tougher to go from being a top 20, top 10 nationally ranked program to beating the elite of the country like Wyoming Seminary of Pennsylvania, Blair Academy of New Jersey and Buchanan High of Clovis, the top three ranked programs in the nation according to Intermatwrestle.com. The Mustangs, who entered the week ranked No. 19, plan on closing that gap soon.
They hosted the second Garlic City Rumble on Dec. 31, with mixed results. Gilroy lost to fourth-ranked Montini Catholic of Illinois 39-25 and fell to No. 11 Lake Highland Prep of Florida, 41-25. In both duals, the Mustangs were only a couple of points behind with two individual matches remaining only to see their opponents win going away.
“(Against Lake Highland) we won six matches, they won seven, we gave up a forfeit, not all that bad,” Cormier said. “I think we had some spots in the lineup where we were not particularly strong, and it showed in that match. In the swing matches, they got the job done. In the second match vs. Montini, we won five or six matches and didn’t wrestle as well in that one. They’re a very physical team, and we allowed them to impose their will on us. They dictated the pace in the matches and in a lot of situations, and we were the ones that took a backseat. But overall, I felt like in the second year of the Garlic City Rumble, we were much more competitive this year than last year.”
The Mustangs have a pair of top 10, nationally ranked grapplers in seniors Nicholas Villarreal and Chase Saldate, who is No. 1 at 152 pounds (Villarreal is No. 8 in the heavyweight rankings). Saldate and Villarreal have plenty in common. In addition to being nationally ranked, they have both signed with Division I programs (Saldate with Michigan State and Villarreal with Fresno State). And both are coming off runner-up finishes in the CIF State Championships last year. To say they’re on a mission would be a vast understatement.
Saldate likes the blend of youth—four freshmen are in the starting lineup—and experience on the squad. Junior Jayden Gomez holds the No. 1 spot at 126 pounds in the CCS rankings. As a freshman, Gomez won the CCS title at 106 pounds and finished fifth at state. However, Gomez was absent from the postseason last year because he failed to make weight late in the season. A Fresno State commit, Gomez also has state title aspirations.
“Jayden was an All American at the Fargo National Tournament last year, (recognizing him as) one of the top 25 kids in the country,” Cormier said. “He’s one of our team leaders and a guy who we’ll rely on a lot to collect us points.”
Freshman Scotty Moore holds the top spot at 106 pounds, a tremendous sign of respect considering No. 2 Calvin Antonio of Evergreen Valley was the runner-up in the CCS Championships last season.
“Scotty is kind of like our big freshman prodigy,” Saldate said. “The biggest thing is trying to get him to transition into having to wrestle more (specific) positions. Overall, he’s a very solid wrestler and as a freshman as good as they come.”
Said Cormier: “Scotty has long been one of the better youth wrestlers in the country. Right now his mental (game) hasn’t matched up with his ability, so that’s where he’s missing a little bit. But when his mental catches up, he’ll be fine.”
Freshman Zack Fierro is ranked No. 3 at 113 pounds, and took first-place honors in the Clovis West Shootout and Lincoln Nick Buzolich Tournaments earlier in the season at 120 pounds.
“Zack is a freshman coming into his own,” Cormier said. “Against Lake Highland, Zack beat a kid who had beat him in August. Zack won 5-1 and won against Montini, and was probably our MVP of the dual. He wrestled phenomenally, and I’m proud of him for that.”
Another freshman, Oscar Alfaro, is ranked fourth at 120 pounds and took first in the Lincoln Tournament, where he pinned No. 3 Anthony Pavlov of Los Gatos at the 4-minute mark. Pavlov avenged that defeat by a narrow 1-0 decision in the Aptos Tournament, and the two should be seeing plenty of each other throughout the season. Saldate said he has been impressed with all of the freshmen, especially with Alfaro and Fierro.
“Zack and Oscar are both on the younger end,” Saldate said. “They’re true no hold back guys, and here at a school like Gilroy, you normally don’t make the lineup until your sophomore or junior year when you’re a little more mature. But we needed them, we’ve thrown them in the fire and they’re fighting.”
A fourth freshman, Doug Porter, has solidified his position in the lineup at 160 pounds. Cormier said Porter deserves plaudits for packing on 26 pounds of muscle over the last six months to compete at 160 pounds, a weight class the team needed to be filled.
“Right now Doug is making massive gains,” Cormier said.
“We didn’t have anyone there at 160 before, so Doug manned up in the weight room all summer,” Saldate said. “It’s huge for us, and he’s a team type of guy. He came in at 130 (pounds) a month before the season, and we let him know (he would be needed at 160). Then he got to work.”
When a high school wrestling team starts four freshmen, it’s usually not a recipe for success. But when it’s Gilroy, all it means is the next generation of standout wrestlers have arrived. Of course, the freshmen learn a ton from the older grapplers like Saldate, Villarreal, Nate Aguilar, Gomez, and Henry Porter, a Oakdale transfer. Saldate, Aguilar and Gomez have been wrestling together since they were 6 or 7 years old, and the camaraderie they have built over that time has been special. Nate Aguilar is the younger brother of former Gilroy standout Nick Aguilar, who won a state title two years ago.
“I feel like Nate is coming into his own,” Cormier said. “I think Nate right now is ready to come out of the shadow and start building his own legacy at Gilroy.”
Henry Porter is in his first year at Gilroy after two strong seasons at Oakdale. A University of Indiana commit, Porter finished second to Nick Aguilar in the state final two years ago before a third-place finish at state last year. Cormier referred to Porter as, “one of our true studs,” and Saldate had equally great things to say about him.
“Henry is a next level wrestler and will be my partner (in practice) all year,” Saldate said. “He’s one of the main guys on the team who pushes me in the room everyday. He takes me down, which a lot of guys in the room actually can’t do. He’s definitely one of the guys we expect to win a state title. He’s legit.”
As is junior Victor Jacinto, the section’s top-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds. Jacinto has gone up three weight classes from last year, when he won the CCS title at 126 pounds before taking fourth at state. Jacinto has made tremendous improvement since his freshman year, a testament to his work ethic and determination.
“Victor came in his freshman year and wasn’t the best wrestler at all,” Saldate said. “But he’s gotten phenomenal and has got heavy hands. He’s a guy who will go out there and swing on you. He has that grit (all wrestlers need to be successful).”
Said Cormier: “Vic is a D1 type of kid who will earn a scholarship. He is the next one in line (to earn a scholarship to wrestle in college).”
Senior Chad Sakamoto starts at 170 pounds and is in his first and only year of wrestling with the Gilroy High program. Sakamoto, who entered the week at No. 6 in the CCS rankings, is competing for the first time in four years. Saldate has known Sakamoto for a long time, and is thrilled to see his childhood friend back in the game.
“Getting Chad here was huge for us,” Saldate said. “He was one of our originals. He was on (the) Gilroy (Hawks) before I was. He really was the best kid on our team growing up. He won national junior tournaments in his middle school years, but once he got to high school, he was done with it. I always hung out with him and was close with him through high school. We talked to him and said we needed him to come out. In the summer he started grinding and getting after it.”
Said Cormier: “As time has gone by, Chad has started to find what made him so good. He’s hard working and committed, and that is going to take him a long way. We believe he can place at state, and if that happens, he’s pretty much guaranteed to have the opportunity to wrestle in college.”
Andy Contreras and Josh Cortez man the 182- and 220-pound spots, respectively. Even though neither wrestler is ranked in the section, they’ll be instrumental for the team by working hard in practice everyday, improving and picking up points when the opportunity presents itself.
“Andy is trying to make his mark on the team and is having a tough time, but hopefully things turn around for him,” Cormier said. “Josh is from a good wrestling family, got back on the mat (in the Garlic City Rumble) for the first time this year and showed a lot of toughness, grit and determination. He’s a guy I believe in time will be very beneficial to what we’re trying to accomplish as a team.”
The Mustangs have one of the best heavyweights in the nation in Villarreal, who quietly goes about his business and gets the job done. A true pro’s pro, Villarreal earns praise because no one has to worry about what he will bring to every practice and match. The Garlic City Rumble proved to be the perfect example, as Villarreal won both of his matches via pinfall.
“Nick is a joy to have on the team,” Cormier said. “There is nothing better in wrestling than having a great heavyweight on your side.”
Or a 152-pounder in the caliber of Saldate, who Cormier simply calls, “the best kid on team.” In the travel season, Saldate won the Super 32 Tournament, which is considered to be one of the toughest events in the nation. Cormier praised Saldate’s work ethic and ability to perform in big matches. Case in point: Saldate was the only Gilroy wrestler to win his weight class in the ultra-competitive Doc Buchanan Tournament last Saturday in Clovis. In what is regarded as one of the top three high school tournaments in the nation, Saldate went 5-0, coming up with an impressive 5-1 win over Matt Singleton of Woodward Academy (Georgia) in the 152-pound final. Singleton was wrestling down a weight class, as he is ranked 19th in the nation at 160 pounds.
Villarreal took second at heavyweight, Gomez was fourth at 126 pounds, Henry Porter finished seventh at 138 and Jacinto took seventh at 145. Gilroy placed seventh as a team and was the third best squad from California after Buchanan (first overall) and St. John Bosco, which finished in sixth place.