San Fernando has created and developed one of best boys’ and girls’ wrestling programs in the City Section, with 21 total team championships won since 1977.
So when another team is able to win a City team title instead of the Tigers, it’s news.
Yet that’s what happened at the section championships held Feb. 17 at the Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.
San Fernando, with 276.50 points, won its second straight girls’ team title and fourth in the past five years. (Wrest-ling became a City-sanctioned girls’ team championship sport in 2013). The Birmingham Charter Patriots, with 234.50 points, finished second to the Tigers on Saturday.
In the boys’ championships, however, Birmingham out-scored San Fernando 278.50 to 256.50 for the title. That win ended several years of frustration for the Patriots, who’d last won a boys’ championship in 2013. They had finished third in 2014 and 2015, then second in 2016 and last year before their breakthrough on Saturday.
Both coaches credited the titles won as “team” efforts.
“They are also very ‘workmanlike,’ to coin a phrase,” said Coach Fernando Gonzalez, in describing the San Fernando girls’ team. “For them, [wrestling] is a job. And they take it very serious when it comes to being ready and mentally tough.”
The Birmingham boys were “an elite group of kids who committed to my idea of the process and the program,” Coach James Medeiros said. “Most of them are juniors so a lot will be back. They want what I’ve been selling to them. That’s what it really comes down to.”
San Fernando and Birmingham were the leading contenders before the final round of matches got underway on Saturday.
In the girls’ events, the Tigers had a lead of 242.50 to 216.50 for the Patriots. But San Fernando never let Birmingham get close, winning six of the seven championship matches the Tigers had an entry. Their winners were Paris Valencia (101 pounds); Jessica Vazquez (106 pounds); Karla Rivera (121 pounds); Samantha Larios (131 pounds); Gianna Anaya (143 pounds); Sandra Castrejon (160 pounds); and Adelina Parra (170 pounds).
The most dramatic victory came in the 131-pound match. Larios was moments away from a loss but then pulled off a stunning last-second reversal against opponent Ayana Cabrera of Birmingham to pull out a 9-8 victory.
The Patriot girls won three of their seven title matches. The most historic was in the 189-pound match, when Alexandra Castillo won a fourth City championship by pinning Angela Buenrrostro of Monroe. Castillo is the first City female wrestler to accomplish the feat.
Also becoming champions for Birmingham were Karla Rivera (121 pounds) and Tiffany Calderon (150 pounds).
Other girls’ winners were Allyah Rollins (111 pounds), Salma Morales (116 pounds), Alexandra Banag (137 pounds) and Leann Chapman (235 pounds) of Granada Hills Charter; and Yuridia Garcia of Monroe (126 pounds).
Monroe, with 143 team points, was third, followed by Granada Hills with 129 points and Poly 91.
Birmingham began the boys’ final matches in first place with 259 points. San Fernando was second with 233.50. The Patriots had nine wrestlers in the finals while the Tigers had seven. There were also three-head-to-head battles between the teams, at 128-, 140- and 222-pounds.
San Fernando won all three. Albert Del Toro earned the 128-pound title by a 7-5 decision against Birmingham’s Diego Nava. Eric Rocha scored a 9-1 major decision victory against the Patriots’ Desi Lobos in the 140-pound match. And Joe Reyes was the 222-pound victor by pinning Gabriel Mejia.
But the Tigers probably needed to win all seven of their matches to have a shot. They only crowned two more champions — Cristian Loera (108 pounds) and Kobe Pepe (122 pounds).
It was not enough to overtake Birmingham, even though the Patriots only had winners in four weight classes — Roque Roman (115 pounds), Jonavon Smith (172 pounds), Carlos Gomez (184 pounds) and Joseph Chacon (287 pounds) — and also had a team point deducted for excessive celebrations following the final match.
The point difference Saturday probably came down to the fact that Birmingham had five second place finishes and one third place. San Fernando had just two second place finishers and no third place winner.
Medeiros was ecstatic about finally getting past the Tigers in the boys’ championships.
“They’ve always been good since the beginning [of wrestling in the section],” the coach graciously said of San Fernando. “We’ve been good in the last 6-7 years, mainly because I’ve tried to get the kids to do a lot of extra stuff. We’ve had to make up in four years what they’ve done for 10. They have a great little kids [wrestling] club, where we’ve had kids coming from high school.”
Gonzalez just as graciously commended Birmingham on its victory while also saluting the performance of his athletes.
“Congratulations to them. They deserved it,” he said of Birmingham. “I’m also proud of [his] team; they wrestled well. There was a lot of experience Birmingham had on us. I still thought our guys could make it happen, but it didn’t happen.”
Other boys’ champions included Aaron Galef (134 pounds), Jake Carpenter (154 pounds), Chance Chapman (162 pounds) and Hamzah Al-Saudi of Palisades Charter of Pacific; and Jordan Cabral of Sylmar (147 pounds).
Palisades placed third in the team competition with 179 points, followed by Sylmar with 164, and and Eagle Rock with 91.