Those who know me know there are few prep sporting events I savor more than big wrestling tournaments, in particular the CIF State Championships each March at Rabobank Arena. This year's are March 1-2, and we're rolling out even more coverage for you wrestling nuts to enjoy, from advance features and bracket analysis to my annual live blog to video recaps and analysis of each session and daily recaps in the paper.
But as fun as the postseason can be — and it begins Feb. 8-9 with league championships and continues with section tournaments each of the next two weekends — wrestling's regular season can be a bit hard to follow. The premier events are tournaments like the Reno Tournament of Champions, the Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis and the Temecula Valley Battle for the Belt. But you'll notice that all of those are out of town. Centennial hosted the Kern County Invitational last weekend, and East has its early-season Coyote Classic, but other than that, local tournaments are generally small, regional affairs that don't include very many top wrestlers.
Dual meets are fun, too, but in Kern County, Bakersfield has been such a dominant team for so long that the drama is sucked out of those, too. Things are a bit different this year, though. I decided to take a look at where things stand as the league season begins and that fabulous postseason looms in just three weeks.
(For ranking purposes in the following rundown, I've used The California Wrestler's section and rankings.)
Yes, we'll all still talk most about Bakersfield in the postseason, because the Drillers have a starting lineup full of stars. The headliners are Andrew Fierro (who will wrestle 145, where he's ranked second in the section or 152, where he's No. 8 in the state), Coleman Hammond (he'll wrestle where Fierro doesn't, ranked No. 1 in the section at 152 and No. 5 in the state at 145), plus Hunter Hodges (No. 5 in section, 14 in state at 160), Bryce Martin (No. 1 in section, No. 11 in state at 170) and Kyle Pope (No. 2 in section, No. 3 in state at 182). Those five guys will rack up plenty of points by themselves, but the Drillers are hoping for another wrestler or two to join them at that level: Candidates range from lightweights Carlos Herrera and Sean Nickell (who will man the 106 and 113 spots in some order), to Arik Onsurez and Anthony Rivero at 120 and 126, to Nick Kidd and Travis Ellebracht at 195 and 220. For two-time defending state runner-up BHS to challenge two-time defending champion Clovis, they'll need a couple of those guys to have big postseasons.
But it's not all about the Drillers this year. The area has two wrestlers ranked No. 1 in the state, starting with Frontier senior Vincent Gomez at 126. He beat previous state No. 1, Jonas Gaytan of Clovis, 5-4 in the Doc Buchanan semifinals before losing a tight match to a Pennsylvania wrestler in the final. Gomez is flanked by Titans Isaiah Ozuna (No. 4 in section, No. 24 in state at 132), Kyle Shepherd (No. 4 in section, No. 15 in state at 160) and Josh Bailey (No. 2 in section, No. 7 in state at 195) to form a formidable team that's ranked No. 16 in the state overall. I'm not sure the Titans can challenge Bakersfield in a dual-meet format (they meet at the SWYL duals on Jan. 30) but they stand a better chance than anyone else in town.
However, the Kern County team ranked highest in TCW's state rankings isn't in Bakersfield at all. That'd be Wasco, which owns a No. 7 rank (BHS is No. 8) behind a couple of big-name individuals. It starts with Sean Medley, a senior who's No. 1 in the state at 220 pounds. Then there's Isaiah Hokit, a 113-pound sophomore, (No. 2 in the section, No. 4 in the state), his freshman brother Jushua Hokit (No. 4 in the section, No. 8 in the state at 126) and heavyweight Garret Johnson (No. 4 in section, No. 14 in state). Those four by themselves could rack up enough points for a top-10 finish at state. Any others who step up will only add to that total.
Elsewhere, Foothill has a nice team, as usual. After a few years of dominating upperweights, this year's Trojans are led by Marco Velasquez (No. 5 in section, No. 20 in state at 113), Nick Marquez (No. 4 in section, No. 13 in state at 120) and Oscar Corona (No. 6 in section, No. 18 in state at 152). Several other schools, like Liberty, Centennial, Stockdale and Shafter, have individual wrestlers who could reach the state tournament and make some noise. It's safe to say that as the postseason approaches, Kern County will again be well-represented in the brutally tough Central Section and the state meet at Rabobank Arena.