Valencia freshman wrestler makes instant impact, wins first tournament 

Valencia freshman 120-pound wrestler Slater Hicks won the Tournament of Champions at the end of December. Courtesy photo.
Valencia freshman 120-pound wrestler Slater Hicks won the Tournament of Champions at the end of December. Courtesy photo.

The Valencia Vikings wrestling program added a big name to the roster a couple of weeks ago, and the results are already showing. 

Slater Hicks, who grew up in the Santa Clarita Valley, transferred from St. John Bosco to Valencia in December. Hicks and the rest of the Vikings competed at the Tournament of Champions during the last weekend of December, with Hicks not only taking the crown at 120 pounds, but also taking down a former St. John Bosco Braves teammate in the finals. 

“We knew that it was a tough tournament, we were going to have the St. John Bosco kid, most likely, in the finals,” Valencia head coach Brian Peterson said. “So, his former teammate that we knew we were going to contend with, we ended up wrestling him in the finals and we beat him 2-1.” 

Hicks pinned his first five opponents, four of them in the first period, before needing to go the distance against the Braves’ Nathan Carrillo. Peterson said it’s a matchup that Hicks was “definitely gearing up for,” especially with Carrillo being ranked fifth in the state, according to Peterson. 

“He ended up getting Most Outstanding Wrestler in the tournament,” Peterson said. “You know, for a freshman to take out the No. 5 guy in state right now is a pretty big deal.” 

The Vikings finished 25th out of 73 teams that competed, racking up 72.5 points. Hicks garnered half of those and was a big reason why Valencia finished as high as it did despite having only one wrestler place. 

Senior Alex Lopez, who had been the leader of the Vikings for the first half of the season, was unable to finish the tournament. He pulled out with an injury in the consolation fifth round. 

Despite that hanging over the head of the program, Peterson was happy with how the rest of his wrestlers performed.  

He was especially pleased with junior Henry Egami and sophomore Evan Payne. Egami made it to the third round of the championship bracket at 157 pounds before eventually falling out in the sixth round of the consolation bracket. Payne, just wrapping his first full year on the mat, won two matches at 144 pounds before dropping his next two. 

“Evan Payne has really stepped up,” Peterson said. “He’s one of the better kids on the varsity and he just hit one year of wrestling … (Egami is) moving so well right now that I think by the end of next year, he’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with.” 

Egami had to battle back from a huge deficit in the first round against Royal’s Benjamin Kirk and ended up with a pin. Kirk was a CIF Southern Section Masters Meet qualifier last year. 

Payne also fought back from a deficit, this one in the second round of the championship bracket against Redondo Union’s Christian Walter, and was able to reverse the match and get the pin. 

The Vikings are starting to see a full varsity team take shape with up to nine wrestlers competing at competitions. That helped them to go 2-2 in dual meets despite forfeiting a few matches in each dual, essentially giving away six points with each forfeit. 

One of those wins came in the last dual meet of the season against the Simi Valley Pioneers in the middle of December, just before Hicks transferred in. The Vikings won on the road, 40-36, with all of Simi Valley’s wins coming from Valencia forfeits. 

Lopez, Dayle Cailles, Om Kulkarni, Egami and Jairdan Chopra all won with pins, while Eddie Avila won by a 16-6 major decision. 

“I was happy with it,” Peterson said. “We beat the schools that we should have beat; we lost to the schools that we should have lost to. But we performed really well.” 

The wrestling season has now reached crunch time with postseason tournaments coming up in less than a month. Peterson said he hasn’t allowed his wrestlers to rest on any successes from the first half of the year, as he knows the road only gets tougher from here. 

The Vikings worked hard over the winter break, training as well as competing in tournaments. Peterson is hoping for that hard work to turn into more success in the second half of the season. 

“We’ve been working really hard,” Peterson said. “We’ve been busting our butts, training the kids twice a day through the winter break. And the kids are putting in the work right now … I’m pretty happy with where we are overall for such a young team.” 

The Vikings are back on the mats for more tournament action this weekend. Hicks is on his way to Clovis for the Doc Buchanan Invitational with the rest of the Vikings heading to John Glen High School in Norwalk for the Juan Enriquez Memorial tournament. 

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