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June 19, 2021

Wrestling: Mustangs ready for MBL foes

Nikko Villarreal didn’t mince his words when he explained the importance of the next three weekends for Gilroy High’s wrestling program.

“If it’s not an important time of year for you, you’re not training for anything,” Villarreal said.

It’s the kind of philosophy that Mustangs coach Greg Varela is glad to hear coming from his leader as the calendar turns to the postseason.

Gilroy and Christopher are among the teams set to compete in the Monterey Bay League finals, which begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Watsonville High. The top six wrestlers in each weight class will advance to the Central Coast Section meet, which determines who reaches the state meet.

“I like this part of the season because our grind is over, where it’s tournament, tournament, tournament,” Varela said. “I wanted them mentally tough, being through it.

“Now, it’s just fine-tuning. This part of the season’s great; we get to work on technique and slow things down a bit.”

Varela said he was pleased with the way his team responded to a hectic stretch between Jan. 16 and 26 that included two tournaments and three dual meets.

“They all had positive attitudes,” Varela said. “Even the guys who were taking losses, they were mentally tough.”

Villarreal will lead the Mustangs into MBLs. The junior won titles at the Doc Buchanan Invitational, Mid-Cals and Overfelt Classic tournaments in January, and he was rewarded with a ranking of No. 1 in the state at 138 pounds by The California Wrestler.

“He’s dialed in. Right now, he’s firing on all cylinders,” Varela said of Villarreal, who won a state title last year at 132 pounds. “He’s definitely taken a leadership role on this team.”

Villarreal said the Mustangs have lofty goals for the league meet.

“We would hopefully have everyone advance. That’s our team goal,” he said. “Individually, it’s to pin everyone. That’s one of my goals, to pin everyone in league.”

Gilroy also will be counting on juniors Paul Fox, ranked third in the state at 132 pounds, and Victor Olmos, ranked fifth in the state at 126 pounds.

Other Mustangs ranked in the state include sophomore Jesse Vasquez (No. 15 at 113), junior Lupe Jimenez (No. 35 at 152), sophomore Matt Penyacsek (No. 29 at 160) and sophomore Mark Penyacsek (No. 30 at 170).

Vasquez emerged as a contender this season, claiming Outstanding Wrestler honors among lowerweights at Mid-Cals.

Jimenez also broke out this year, helping bolster the Mustangs’ chances of a historic postseason run.

“I think he’s going to surprise some kids,” Varela said of Jimenez. “I don’t really think anyone’s thinking of Lupe being much of a threat, but we know what we’ve got. He’s a tough kid with a lot of heart.”

Christopher will lean heavily on junior Jimmie Lopez, who is ranked No. 20 in the state at 106 pounds.

Gilroy is No. 5 in the state team rankings, and the Mustangs are favored according to the numbers to win their 11th straight CCS title.

For now, Varela just wants his team to get through MBLs healthy as the CCS and state meets approach.

“We just want to get everyone healthy, get everyone through without an injury,” Varela said. “If we take a loss here or there, it’s getting them ready for CCS and state.”

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