By Ryan Menzie
For The Signal
While COVID-19 protocols prevented the California Interscholastic Federation from being able to organize a full season of wrestling competition, grapplers from around the state, including several Santa Clarita Valley students, still found a way to compete at one local gym.
Although a normal CIF season wasn’t possible, a number of club organizations got together to give athletes a chance to compete. For some, it was their last chance to compete while in high school.
Valencia High wrestling head coach Brian Peterson organized a club team, the Peterson Grapplers, from his gym of the same name off Avenue Stanford. He also used the location as a venue for the club competitions locally, and while it wasn’t the same as normal, it ended up being a great season, he said.
“We had a couple of kids get college scholarships, and one kid won the state title,” said Peterson. “We have been working the whole time with our dedicated group. We’re not under the banners of school, but we’re still working. COVID destroyed our program for the most part, and we now have a really small team so we’re going to have to rebuild.”
The girls were led by America Lopez, who won the state title as a junior last season. Lopez continued her streak of dominance by winning the Junior National Team Duels this year in the 170-pound class in Las Vegas.
Despite struggling with some injuries this season, Lopez and her mom, Nohemi Lopez, wanted to stay focused on the bigger picture and prepare for the collegiate level. Lopez will look to continue her already stellar career next year for Iowa Wesleyan University.
“It felt so good to win the national tournament. It was a lot of training and a lot of mental preparation going into it,” said America Lopez. “My coaches always told me to stay hungry and I wanted to prepare for the next level, despite not having a true CIF season. I want to thank my coaches, Brian, and my brother Andrew for putting so much effort into me — staying through thick and thin with me to help me reach my accomplishments.”
As a parent, Nohemi Lopez said she only wanted to see her child succeed and was sad there wasn’t a true CIF season. She wanted America to heal and considered taking this season off to heal for next season at the college level, but instead decided for her to get into the tournament to help raise her profile and gain the additional experience.
“We had an amazing season,” said Nohemi Lopez. “If we had another regular season, I’m sure we would have been at the top again. We want to thank the coach, teammates and everyone who supported us along the way because it is a hard sport. We are excited to see what (America) will do in college.”
Due to COVID-19 stopping the season for the first time since 1973, there was no state championship.
However, similar to track hosting an unofficial end-of-the-season meet to determine champions, the wrestling clubs held an unofficial tournament to recognize the state’s top competitors.
Despite the ever-changing regulations, Valencia High’s Trent Munoz managed to train, compete and earn the unofficial state title for the 170-pound weight class in his last year of high school. Munoz’s younger brother Alex finished fourth in the state in the 160-pound weight class, and will continue to compete under coach Peterson next season. Munoz plans to continue his wrestling career at Hastings College in Nebraska.
“It felt great winning the state championship even though it was unofficial,” said Munoz. “When I heard of the tournament, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Winning the tournament was the icing on top of it so it was a great feeling. My coaches have always taught me to keep wrestling no matter what because you never know what will happen. With that in mind, I hope to continue my success in college.”