By Keith Peters
History was made one year ago when the Palo Alto wrestling team won its first league-meet championship in 25 years. The Vikings accomplished that after finishing second to unbeaten Los Gatos during the dual-match season.
Palo Alto can add to the history book on Saturday when it goes after its second straight title in the SCVAL Championships at Cupertino High, which begin at 10 a.m. The meet originally was scheduled for Homestead High, but switched at a late date.
The Vikings can become the first Paly team to win back-to-back league wrestling titles since the 1960s -- the Vikings won seven SPAL crowns then -- and equal the 1986 squad that won both the dual-match and league-meet crowns.
Paly went 5-1 in duals this season, winning the title on Monday with a 53-16 victory over host Los Altos. Gunn had a chance to finish 5-1, needing to beat Los Gatos on Thursday night, but the Titans' lone loss was to Paly.
On Saturday, both teams will be in the hunt for the team crown while their athletes will be gunning for top-six finishes to earn berths for the Central Coast Section Championships.
"We are looking to defend out league tournament title," said Paly coach Dave Duran. "This year, the tournament is a little more wide open. The best tournament teams in our league this year have been Cupertino, Los Gatos, Gunn and us."
"If we can have our horses repeat as they did last season, and have our younger guys qualify to the CCS tournament, we should defend our tournament title."
Palo Alto returns three individual champions -- Joey Christopherson (121), Nick Ortiz (127) and Kalen Gans (162). The Vikings had 11 CCS qualifiers last year.
Gans is ranked No. 1 in the CCS at 160, Ortiz is No. 1 at 134 and Christopherson is No. 10 at 126. Paly also has Jordan Smith (No. 13 at 113), Trent Marshall (No. 11 at 138), Gary Hohbach (No. 15 at 145), Ryan Oshima (No. 5 at 154), Erik Anderson (No. 10 at 170), Christian Lonsky (No. 21 at 182) and Tanner Marshall (No. 25 at 285).
Gunn had six CCS qualifiers at last year's league meet, five of whom are back.
"If we win the league tournament, which I also think we can do, I will be a happy coach," said Gunn's Chris Horpel. "This has been one of our best seasons ever at Gunn, and I hope we can keep it going at league and CCS. I think we have at least 11 CCS-type wrestlers this year."
Gunn's CCS-ranked athletes are Cadence Lee (No. 14 at 106), Daniel Papp (No. 16 at 113), Eric Cramer (No. 7 at 126), Miko Mallari (No. 21 at 138), Chris Jin (No. 6 at 145), Julian Calderon (No. 10 at 152), Casey Jackson (No. 11 at 160), Sean Lydster (No. 5 at 195), JJ Strnad (No. 20 at 220) and Harsha Mokkarala (No. 22 at 285).
"Overall, this is a great dual-meet team," Horpel said. "I wish I had this lineup all season long, but kids had to wrestle other weight classes until later in the season."
The PAL Championships will be held February 18 at Half Moon Bay. The meet was switched from Capuchino High.
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