Palo Alto hoping to pin
down another league title
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 Homestead High, which begin at 10 a.m. The Vikings can become the first Paly team to win back-to-back league wrestling titles since the 1960s 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."
Wrestling's postseason got under way a week ago as Gunn sophomore Cadence Lee and Menlo-Atherton senior Kendra Wiley each pinned down an individual title at the 2012 Central Coast Section Girls' Wrestling Championships last Saturday at Oak Grove High in San Jose.
The top-seeded Lee won the 103-pound title and the top-seeded Wiley took the 126-pound crown. A total of 41 schools and 166 wrestlers were represented in the two-day event, with Gunn finishing 17th. The Titans' Jessica Sun was fifth at 146 pounds.
Lee has a 21-4 overall record, mostly against boys, and now has won two straight CCS titles at 103 pounds. This is Sun's first season of wrestling. The junior is 7-2 overall this season.
Lee is the starter on the boys' wrestling team at 106 pounds and has one tournament title and two runner-up finishes this season against boys. She is also playing on the girls' varsity soccer team, which is also a winter sport.
Lee earned 26 points by winning her three matches. After a first-round bye, she pinned Destinee Nagtalon of Cupertino in 1:36 and pinned Telma Tavares of Overfelt in 2:00. That put her in the finals, where she decisioned Kayla Walker of Leigh, 9-2.
Sun scored 11 points. She also opened with a bye and then dropped a 6-4 decision to Engie Mendoza of Lincoln (San Francisco). Sun then pinned Crystal Poon of Santa Teresa in 1:59 and won by medical forfeit over Brenda Cortez of SF International. In the consolation semifinal, Sun was pinned by Alli Kretschmer of Terra Nova in 4:26, but bounced back to take fifth by pinning Vivian Rivera of Sequoia in 4:04.
Wiley continued her impressive season that includes three tournament championships, a runner-up and a record of 15-1 entering the CCS tournament. She was the top seed in her weight class and showed why throughout the event as she did not allow a point to an opponent during the preliminary rounds.
Wiley pinned each opponent before the second period ended. Under the spotlight Saturday night in the finals, she built an 11-1 lead before pinning her foe from Scotts Valley just 53 seconds into the second period to win the title.
Wiley is just the fifth CCS wrestling champion in Menlo-Atherton history, and the first girl. This is her third year in the spot. She placed third at CCS last year and seventh at the CIF State Tournament for girls.
During her first two seasons, she was the only girl on the M-A wrestling team, which now has a second girl this year — Coral Brady — who was unable to compete at CCS due to injury.
Wiley often works with her boy teammates during practice and, according to M-A coach Peter Wright, she and the coaching staff feel that has given her an edge as she's had to wrestle to the level of the guys — both technically and physically.
"So, she comes out with a different mindset than a lot other girl wrestlers," Wright said. "She is always looking to be the most physical wrestler, to push the pace of the match so hard that most opponents can't keep up with her. Basically, she makes it her goal to make her opponent give up. And she loves using techniques you don't see many girls using because of the strength, physicality, and technical knowledge required to work them properly."
Menlo-Atherton had one final PAL Bay Division dual match remaining, on Thursday against visiting Sequoia. The Bears then will compete at the PAL Championships on Feb. 18 at Capuchino High. The girls' state championships will be Feb. 24-25 in Lemoore (outside of Fresno).