When Valencia wrestler Trent Munoz begins a tournament, he does so confidently, despite being only a sophomore. Most times, no one even knows what grade he’s in until after he wins.
“They usually are all like, ‘What grade are you in?’ I tell them I’m a sophomore and they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re really good,’” Munoz said. “They’re usually really surprised by that because usually, underclassmen are wrestling JV but some of them beat the odds and like me, I beat the odds and I’m wrestling varsity.”
After the graduation of key seniors like Chance Rich, Nick Lopez, Derrick Top and Cory Faulconer, the status of Vikings wrestling was to be decided at the start of this season. But thanks to a handful of underclassmen like Munoz, Valencia has been performing up to standards.
Most recently, the Vikings reached the podium for the first time ever at the Tournament of Champions at Cerritos College on Saturday and Sunday, placing eighth as a team in the event.
“I think it’s pretty cool that we’re able to do something that no one from our team before has been able to do,” said freshman Jake Quintana. “I know we have a really good team, a lot of good guys and we’re just excited to keep it going with our strong team.”
Four wrestlers medaled at the tournament, which featured teams from across California, Texas and Nevada.
In another program-first, Ben Gould was the 195 champion with a clean sheet at 4-0 that featured one pin, one major decision and two decisions. Last season, Gould placed third in the tourney.
“Honestly, the aggression,” Gould said of the difference this year. “I’ve been pushing the aggression, putting so much pressure on my opponent that they really have no chance to have the offense.”
With his sweep at the Tournament of Champions, Gould remains undefeated on the season at 22-0. The undefeated record doesn’t weigh on his mind too much, though.
“I don’t always dwell on it because you have to go into each match knowing it’s just about that match,” Gould said. “You can’t worry about ‘Oh, if I lose this match it affects all the others.’ It’s only about that match at that time, but I do keep it in mind and I hope to keep it going.”
Wrestling at 106, Quintana placed second with a 3-1 record, one pin and two decisions. Munoz came in second at 145, going 4-1 with two pins, one major decision and one decision. Braden Smelser, a junior, went 5-2 with two pins, one major decision and two decisions for fourth place in the 152 weight class.
Quintana, Munoz and Smelser each have less than three losses on the season. The underclassmen are a self-motivated group, but also draw inspiration from those who came before them.
“It’s cool to hear from our seniors like Ben and Chance, who just graduated, and they just really encouraged me,” Quintana said. “I see the stuff that they can do and to know that I can accomplish these things as a freshman, it just gives me a lot of motivation to do it later.”
Lucas Paschia and Kyle Roth are two more first-year wrestlers who are looking promising. At the Tournament of Champions, Paschia went 1-2 to improve to 8-6 overall and Roth went 4-2 for an 18-9 overall record.
Sophomore Max Begley is primed for future success, too, after going 2-2 at TOC with one pin and one decision. He’s 17-6 overall this season.
Valencia continues the tournament portion of its season this weekend at the Kern County Invitational at Centennial High School in Bakersfield. The weekend after, on Jan. 18 and 19, they’ll travel to Morro Bay for the California Invitational Tournament, which features 87 teams.
Ahead of the tournaments, Gould has words of wisdom to offer his younger teammates.
“Go out there every match and wrestle your hardest,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, go out and beat the senior, surprise them. They don’t know you’re a freshman until the end of the match when they ask you and find out. It’s great to beat the seniors when you’re a freshman. It makes it even more fun.”