Winning Southwest Yosemite League wrestling championships has become old hat for Bakersfield High junior Bryce Martin, but he walked around the Frontier gym Saturday night with a little extra spring in his step.
Martin's 18-4 victory over Frontier's Mike Komin in the 170-pound championship helped the Drillers win their 16th consecutive league title, but he was feeling more relaxed than in years past for other reasons.
"I'm excited," he said. "Instead of focusing on making weight, I'm more focused on my goals."
By this point in the past two seasons, Martin has been counting down the days until the season was over and he could eat freely again -- he was successful despite cutting a significant amount of weight to wrestle at 119 pounds and then at 126.
This year, Martin figured that wasn't worth it, so he spent the whole offseason getting bigger and stronger, no matter what it did to his weight. He also grew three inches. The result: He moved all the way up to 170, an unheard-of jump that hasn't slowed him down.
After Saturday's victory, Martin will remain No. 1 in the section headed to next week's Yosemite Divisional at Madera South.
"When a kid was at 126 and he shows up at 170, you always wonder how he'll handle the guys with that kind of strength and size,” BHS coach Andy Varner said. “Everything is a little bit different, but he’s handled it just fine.”
In fact, Martin has retained much of his quickness and range of motion from his lighter days and still doesn’t give up strength to most 170-pound opponents.
“My low single (one-leg shot) is my biggest thing,” Martin said. “Small guys can scramble out of that. A lot of big guys don’t even have low singles.”
In all, Bakersfield won nine of 14 finals and racked up 281 team points. Runner-up Frontier had four individual champions and had 247 points. Stockdale (163), Liberty (150) and Centennial (128.5) rounded out the top five.
The Drillers’ big guns — A.J. Fierro (145), Coleman Hammond (152), Hunter Hodges (160), Martin and Kyle Pope (182), all of whom are ranked in the state’s top 15 by The California Wrestler — all won easily, with Hodges’ 8-2 win over state No. 13 Kyle Shepherd the closest match among them.
BHS also had victories in the lightest three weight classes from Carlos Herrera (106), Sean Nickell (113) and Arik Onsurez (120).
Nickell’s match was the evening’s most exciting. He trailed Frontier’s Jason Cisterna 6-1 in the second
period before mounting a furious rally that ended with a disputed sequence in which Nickell got a takedown, gave up a reversal and then got a reversal back to win 12-11.
“It was exciting, you know?” Varner said. “It got the crowd going, it got us going.”
The night ended with two quick pins in the heaviest weight classes. Frontier’s Augie Alcantar stuck
Stockdale’s Troy Song in 56 seconds, and Bakersfield’s Shaq Garret turned the feat even quicker, pinning Independence’s Cody Watts with a headlock in 14 seconds.
"I was just trying to wrestle hard,” said Garret, who only started wrestling as a sophomore but said he feels much more comfortable this season. “Didn’t know it’d be that quick. I’m just trying to have fun with it.”
For Frontier, state No. 1 Vincent Gomez shook off an episode last week in which he missed weigh-ins to dominate the 126-pound weight class. He pinned Bakersfield’s Melvin Amaya in the first period.
“On the mat, there aren’t many guys who can stand in Vincent’s way, other than Vincent himself,” Frontier coach Kirk Moore said. “But he’s wrestling as well as ever.”
The Titans also had champions at 132 in Izaiah Ozuna, a 10-5 winner over Bakersfield’s Antonio Gutierrez; and at 195 in Josh Bailey, who beat BHS’ Nick Kidd, 8-3.
“Those guys are shaping up nice,” Moore said. “Losing to BHS never sits well with me, but we had two champions last year and four this year, so that’s improvement.”
Liberty’s Johnny Santore used a third-period penalty point and a late nearfall to break a tie and beat Stockdale’s D.J. Cotter in the 138-pound final, the only championship that didn’t include Bakersfield or Frontier.
The top four wrestlers in each weight move on to the Yosemite Divisional, a deep tournament Friday and Saturday where wrestlers must battle into the top eight to reach the Central Section Masters the following week.
“At this point, it’s all about moving on,” Moore said. “They only seed the top two guys at state anyway, so if you get there, you never know what could happen.”