The CIF State Wrestling Championships are a difficult gauntlet for even the most experienced prep grapplers.
For freshman, who have never experienced competing in the grueling two-event, it can be a bit overwhelming.
That certainly wasn’t the case though for Bakersfield High ninth grader Justin Darter, however.
Weighing roughly 195 pounds but wrestling in the 220-pound weight class, Darter earned a medal with his eighth place finish at Rabobank Arena on Saturday.
He’s one of only a handful of BHS freshman to ever place at the state tournament.
“He’s had an amazing year,” BHS coach Andy Varner said. “He’s improved so much throughout the season. I think his biggest attribute, that’s got him this far, is his desire. He never gives up. He keeps fighting. He keeps himself in the match. He’s just been wearing these big guys out. To medal as a freshman in a big weight class like 220 is very rare.”
Darter, one of only two freshmen and four underclassmen out of 40 wrestlers to earn a spot in the 220-pound bracket, went 5-3 in the tournament.
His eight opponents consisted of six seniors and two juniors.
“I’m definitely happy with my performance at state,” Darter said. “It’s good to be up on the podium and represent BHS well.”
The other three underclassmen in the 220-pound division didn’t fare nearly as well as Darter. They posted a combined record of 1-6.
Despite taking second place at both the Central Section Yosemite Divisional championships and the Central Section Masters meet, Darter entered the state tournament not expected to medal based on his state ranking (11th).
That didn’t deter Darter in the least. He began the tournament confident in his abilities, but trying to focus on just one match at a time.
“When I start thinking ahead that just makes me nervous,” Darter said.
Darter appeared calm and ready for action as he notched a pair of wins in the opening two rounds.
His run at trying to win a state title came to an end during the round of 16 when suffered a 3-0 loss at the hands of No. 6 ranked Tony Rogers of Chester.
Darter rebounded from that setback by winning three straight matches, including a 7-3 decision against Garces’ Isaiah Martin that guaranteed that he would leave the state meet with a medal.
“I’m very happy,” Darter said. “I’m just looking to improve on it next year.”
Olejnik finishes fourth
Bakersfield High’s Izzak Olejnik came oh-so-close to earning a spot in the state finals on Saturday.
However, one point was the difference as he didn’t quite make it.
After posting four straight wins to begin the tournament, the BHS senior lost his 145-pound semifinal match to Selma’s Tony Mendoza in overtime.
“It came down to who was going to make the first mistake,” Olejnik said. “I guess it was me.”
The loss to Mendoza sent Olejnik into the consolation bracket where he rebounded to take fourth place.
It’s the second time Olejnik has won a state medal. His sophomore year he took fifth place in the 106-pound weight class.
“Fourth place isn’t what I came here for, but it will do,” Olejnik said.