The Valencia wrestling team sent seven boys and three girls to the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division Individual Wrestling Championships on Feb. 9 and 10, with seven wrestlers coming home as qualifiers for the Masters Tournament this weekend.
Ben Gould continued his undefeated campaign (38-0), defeating top-seed Brandon Leon from Eleanor Roosevelt High School, who came into the event ranked fifth in the state in the 195 weight class.
Gould, who entered ranked No. 9 in California, defeated Leon 6-1.
“He’s really just come into his own. You see the steady progression from year-to-year and this year has just been a bigger step,” said Valencia wrestling and strength coach Neil Jones. “He’s always been strong, but now he’s even stronger. He’s quick, especially at the 195 weight class. He’s extremely athletic, very technical, very strong, you put all those things together and you win a CIF championship.”
Sophomore Trent Munoz resumed his impressive season, defeating Frank Abacherli of Martin Luther King High School with a pin to secure the 138-pound crown.
Munoz is coming off a third-place finish at the California Invitational Tournament in mid-January and a first-place finish at the Kern County Invitational prior to that at 145.
The sophomore decided to drop down in weight heading into the playoffs and the decision paid off at the CIF Championships.
Qualifying for Masters alongside Gould and Munoz are junior Braden Smesler (152), who finished third and freshman Jake Quintana (106), who nabbed a second-place result.
Jones said Quintana reminds him of Vikings alumnus Chance Rich, who currently wrestles at California State University, Bakersfield, a Division 1 program.
Jones also mentioned that Smelser has grown several inches since he started as a freshman and will continue to improve as he develops into his body.
“One of our alumni who graduated last year, Chance Rich, he was a very impressive freshman as well. He got second his freshman year as well,” Jones said. “He was very impressive. He started at 106 and Jake is very much in the same mold as Chance.
“Braden is growing every year. He’s very tall for his weight class so it’s very interesting and fun to watch him wrestle because of his long arms and legs compared to most of his opponents,” Jones said of Smesler. “He’s very fun to watch. He’s got a very methodical style. We expect that next year that he’ll be even that much better. We fully expect him to make it to State this year, but he’ll continue to get better.”
Senior Anthony Galvez (145) and sophomore Max Begley (170) both placed eighth, each going 3-3.
Freshman Lucas Paschia (113) was the other Viking to wrestle in the tournament, earning his first win.
The girls came home with three Masters qualifiers and two champions with senior Priscilla Ramirez winning the 121-pound championship and sophomore America Lopez winning the 170-pound title.
Ramirez and Lopez each earned their second CIF championship title, with the former qualifying for the Masters Tournament a fourth consecutive year. Lopez will also make her second Masters appearance.
Senior Shani Tyson came in second at 131, making her a two-time Masters qualifier.
“They are very impressive. Priscilla has been with us since she’s been a freshman. Jeff Pumilio has been her primary coach these last two years and it’s been a pleasure to watch her improve,” Jones said of Ramirez. “Girls tend to wrestle a little bit different than boys, and since she wrestles primarily with boys in practice, she wrestles a little bit differently than a lot of the other girls and I think that style really helps her in her competition.
“Shani, she’s more of a thinker. She’s athletic and she’s strong, but she absorbs the technique in a very intellectual way and you see her on the mat executing in that way. It’s really fun to watch her wrestle and she’s so interested in learning more and more and more all the time,” he said about Tyson.
Lopez, who has five brothers who all wrestle, came into the program highly skilled at a young age.
Her older brothers Andrew and Nick, who both wrestled at Valencia, now help as coaches.
“America is amazing. She had two older brothers that wrestled with us. They’ve been helping her all along so when she came in as a freshman she was already amazing,” Jones said. “Andrew and Nick, they are both helping with the program and they’re an absolute pleasure to have in the room.”
The seven Masters qualifiers will compete this Friday and Saturday, with the boys wrestling at Cerritos College and the girls wrestling at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
Jones is expecting a tough slate of competition but is confident his wrestlers will be ready for the challenge.
“I think the competition is going to be fierce. The Southern Section, all four of the boys weight classes have wrestlers that are strong,” he said. “In each of the brackets there are so many ranked kids, but we’re hopeful that all four of them make it through to the state tournament and we’re hoping that we get some very high places as well.”