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December 1, 2021

Prep Wrestling: Two Perfect

BAKERSFIELD — Nikko Villarreal and Paul Fox made a pact — they were both going to finish their high school careers as champions.
After years of hard work, it took just 12 minutes for their pact to be made real as both earned their crowns in back-to-back matches at the California Interscholastic Federation state finals at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield Saturday. Both went undefeated this season.
“He’s like a brother to me. I’ve known him my entire life,” Villarreal said of his sparring partner. “I’m just pumped. I’m just really emotional right now. To be one the best guys to come out of Gilroy and have a partner like Paul and win state titles back-to-back it just feels great.”
Villarreal (145) etched his name into California wrestling history, becoming just the 18th wrestler to win three state titles in CIF’s 42-year history. He won by fall in every match leading up to the finals, but Clovis West’s Chris Garcia put up more of a fight.
Garcia was the first wrestler to takedown Villarreal all season and jumped ahead, 3-2, early in their match. It was just the wake up call the Mustang needed as he as scored takedown after takedown to win 11-6, living up to his ‘Real Deal’ nickname.
And as if the night couldn’t get anymore perfect, Villarreal was also named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.
“He wanted to dominate here,” Gilroy coach Greg Varela said. “He wanted to show everyone how dominate he can be.”
Fox’s (152) match came down to wire, with the first points being scored on a Mustang escape with just 29 seconds left. He scored a takedown on Cardinal Newman’s PJ Klee with 16 seconds remaining to capture his first state title after finishing runner-up the two previous years.
“It’s the greatest feeling ever. I’ve never felt this before. I’ve never won this tournament before,” Fox said. “It was the best. The whole alumni and Gilroy community are all here watching. My big brother (Willie) and big sister came down. It’s just amazing.”
Villarreal, however, has shared the stage with a Fox before. He won his first state championship in 2012, the same year Paul’s older brother Willie took home his title.
It was another Gilroy alum, Jesse Delgado, who helped Paul on the road to a title. Varela credits Delgado with teaching Paul the art of “funk” wrestling, which helped him scramble around in the first period, not allowing Klee to gain control and score.
“Without Delgado, we wouldn’t have survived that round,” Varela said.
Gilroy’s Matt Penyacsek (170) also found himself on the podium with a fifth place finish, helping the Mustangs secure a fourth place team finish. Each Gilroy wrestler won at least one match in during the two-day tournament.
“It comes down to inches really and whoever is willing to fight for those inches is going to win,” Varela said. “Fourth place in the entire state of California — it feels great. I’m really proud of these guys and what they accomplished.”
Christopher’s Alex Garcia was the only other South County wrestler to medal in the state meet, taking 6th in the 152 lb. class. He is the first Cougar in school history to earn a medal on the state’s biggest stage.
“I feel pretty good about it. I worked hard for it, so there’s no surprises here. I worked for it,” Garcia said. “It feels pretty cool.”
Teammate Jimmie Lopez and Gilroy’s Victor Olmos both took home sportsmanship awards. While Lopez had hopes for a different kind of medal, he was thankful for the opportunity to be among the state’s best wrestlers.
“It’s state; it’s a big tournament. Everybody is just going for the gold,” the Christopher wrestler said. “It’s pretty amazing. …This is a tough tournament, you just have to fight through.”
Morgan Hill sent three wrestlers to the big dance — Sobrato’s Brandon Lefore (160) and Live Oak’s Adam Mito (145) and Austin Langford (138).
Lefore, however, was the lone MH representative to win at the tournament. He won his first bout, but lost his next two to finish 1-2. Mito and Langford were both 0-2 at the meet.
Lefore did admit he was disappointed by the weekend’s results, but thankful for the knowledge he gained during it.
“Every match you learn more and more,” the Sobrato wrestler said. “This just gives me more experience. I’ll be wrestling in stadiums like this every weekend like this next year they’ll be having major tournaments like this.”
Paul and Villarreal will part ways next year, attending Stanford and Arizona State universities, respectively. But what the duo was able to do tonight on California high school wrestling’s biggest stage is something that will bind them together for a lifetime.
“These four years have been amazing working with these two guys,” Varela said. “There’s been a lot of sacrifice on both their parts to get to where they are. I’m just glad it paid off because it doesn’t always work out that way.”

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