As he watched the San Fernando High girls’ wrestling team roar past the competition at the City Section individual championships meet on Feb. 16, Coach Fernando Gonzalez saw a dream he had had in fleeting images during the season come closer to fruition.
The dream of having a state championship team.
The Tigers won the girls’ team title on Feb. 16 and placed 13 girls’ wrestlers (out of 14 weight classes) into the state CIF meet at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, CA. The three-day competition begins today, Feb. 21, and concludes on Feb. 23.
Seven are girls who won City titles: Patricia Arana (103 pounds); Viviana Garcia (108); Salma Morales (118); Samantha Larios (133); Gianna Anaya (145); Alyssa Arana (152); and Adelina Parra (170). They will be joined by four in second place including Samantha Ochoa, and two third place finishers.
“It’s amazing,” Gonzalez said during practice this week. “It was a dream that developed as you were watching it. All year, the thought kept creeping in my mind that ‘this is possible.’ And when you see that almost all of our girls are going to wrestle… as it is, it’s something that feels unbelievable.
Now comes finding the balance between dreams and expectations.
“I’m telling them that there is no difference between the City and any other tournaments we go to all year,” Gonzalez said. “We focus on how we prepare, our training, and what we do. We have to trust the process, something else I’ve always been saying since I first took over. We go to tough tournaments all year; I try to get every kid 40 matches, the maximum. And that process culminates into championships. But this is just another tournament; you gotta keep it like that.”
Parra, a junior, is the defending state champion at 170 pounds. She believes the Tigers have an excellent chance to win the team title.
“I think our girls will get it this year,” Parra said. “We work hard, and I believe that hard work will pay off. The main thing we have to do is not give up, believe in yourself and wrestle your match — don’t worry about the person in front of you.”
She adds she won’t be overconfident even though she knows what to expect. “I never go into a match that way. I don’t believe in that.”
The state meet will be a brand new experience for Alyssa Arana, a freshman who won the 152-pound title and who has enjoyed an outstanding season overall, at 36-1.
“I will try not to think about [the pressure] until afterward,” she said. “But I also think we can win it. And it would be amazing.”
San Fernando will also send four boys’ champions to the state meet — Jorge Soriano (108-pounds), Cristian Loara (115), Kobe Lepe (128), and Eric Rocha (154).
The event will have added meaning for Rocha, a senior and four-time champion who was unable to participate last year due to a rib injury. He said he had some advice for teammates getting their first crack at a state championship.
“I’m telling them ‘don’t let the lights go to your head,’ that you’ve been practicing all season for this,” Rocha said.
As far as Lepe is concerned, it’s simply about preparing himself mentally as well as physically.
“I’m just trying to get myself better, get myself ready to compete,” said Lepe, a senior, who went to the state meet in 2018. “Last year I was kinda nervous because it was my first time going. I feel like this year can be better. I have to push myself to keep attacking, not become defensive. And I think I’ll be fine.”
Birmingham, which won the boys’ title, is sending five boys’ champions — Diego Nava (134), Desi Lobos (140), Aaron Galef (147) and Jonovan Smith (184), (and 115-pound second place finisher Roque Roman who got in when other slots that would have gone to the Oakland Section were made available to the City Section). But the Patriots will also have nine girls competing. Three are City champions: Aliyah Rollins (113), Katie Gomez (123) and Jerzie Estrada (162).
Both Birmingham and San Fernando are benefiting from the CIF decision to expand the girls’ bracket to 32 wrestlers. The boys’ bracket remained at 40 wrestlers.
“This is unprecedented; we could finish 1-2 in the state,” Patriots Coach Jim Medeiros said of the Birmingham and San Fernando teams. “We have a great rivalry. If they weren’t at our heels, we wouldn’t have the motivation to work as hard. They’re sending more girls but we have more girls, I feel, that can score more points.”
One obstacle facing every wrestler will be maintaining weight. They will all be weighed every day before the start of competition.
“As long as the kids focus on doing it the right way, not trying to lose a bunch of water weight then try to wrestle while weak and dehydrated, they should be okay,” Medeiros said.