BAKERSFIELD – Chance Rich wanted to close out his senior season with Valencia wrestling on a high note. He had to.
As arguably the Santa Clarita Valley’s best prep wrestler, he had a reputation to uphold at the CIF State tournament on Saturday. A legacy to continue.
But with no score and one minute and 26 seconds remaining in the second period in his third match of the day, Rich found himself on his back, grasping his right knee with both hands and writhing in pain on the mat.
“I immediately said this is not worth it, we’re pulling him out,” said coach Brian Peterson. “I was really concerned with his knee … We were already placing in state. Getting on the medal stand here is hard.”
Trainers told Rich that he suffered a tear in his MCL, the same type of injury that had kept him off the mat for the entirety of this year’s regular season.
“This last match I was wrestling pretty good. Decently, until the end,” said Rich. “I mean there’s nothing I can do. I got in a weird position and my knee got stuck and just a bunch of pops went through my knee.”
Walnut’s Collin Hayes took the match and consequently seventh place in the state tournament. Rich limped away with eighth, two spots below his finish in the same event last year.
Earlier in the day, the 126-pounder beat Ricardo Solario of Santa Ana but still had to win three more matches consecutively to secure third place.
But in his next bout, Elk Grove’s Lokhai Tonge beat Rich in a 4-1 decision.
“My first match I came out pretty strong. I got a little banged up, though, in the match,” Rich said. “Second match I just, I didn’t perform the way I wanted to. I came out a little bit slow. I wasn’t wrestling the way I normally do.”
Although Rich’s prep career was over in an instant, his impact on Valencia wrestling – and wrestling in the SCV – will endure.
Rich was the Vikings’ first-ever state medalist, taking sixth as a junior. He’s the first athlete out of the program to secure a Division 1 scholarship and will be heading to Cal State Bakersfield this summer to continue his wrestling career.
“I learned you can do more than what you think you can do,” said Rich of his experience with the Vikings. “You can push yourself to that limit, but once you realize it, you could break that limit each day, day by day. You get one percent better each day.”
Since Rich was seven years old, he has been under the tutelage of Peterson and assistant coach Felicia Oh. Peterson has faith that his program can produce more great prep wrestlers, but he’s quick to add that finding a successor to Rich won’t be easy.
“He’s the biggest thing that I’ve ever coached in wrestling and this is like 10 1/2 priyears in the making,” said Peterson.
“So it’s just a feeling like, a little bit of relief, a lot of work done, but kind of sadness that it’s over. But the mark he’s leaving is huge. What he did was going to be very hard to duplicate.”