Dominic Leon knew one thing last season, and that was he knew very little.
As a freshman at Golden Valley, Leon, like the rest of the fresh faces in boys wrestling in the Central Section, was thrown to the fire in postseason action.
Up until this season, the section had just two divisional tournaments to seed the Masters tournament.
The section has now moved to five divisional tournaments beginning Friday and concluding Saturday.
Leon and his teammates are no longer in the same division as the likes of Frontier, Clovis, Clovis-Buchanan and Bakersfield. Instead, Golden Valley is one of six Kern County teams in the Division II tournament at Shafter.
“Last year, I was like a deer in the headlights,” Leon said. “I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know that such a large chunk of what you will see at state is right there at your first tournament.”
Leon, a 138-pounder, is one of three local wrestlers with a top seed in the D-II field along with teammate Jaden Hernandez at 113 and Liberty’s Anthony Lucas at 170.
Allowing the smaller schools in the section to move out of the same divisions as some of the top 10 programs in the state helps the moral for these individual wrestlers and teams.
“We’ve always had guys that have been in that top five, but we were never going to win it as a team,” Golden Valley coach Aaron Wherry said. “We just aren’t going to beat the Buchanans, the Clovises. We just are not there yet. This gives us an opportunity to do that.”
Just how tough is the current D-I field in the section? Well, six of the 17 teams in the field are ranked in the top 10 in the state by The California Wrestler, including No. 1 Buchanan.
It also means a shot at a higher seed at Masters for wrestlers like Leon.
“I do believe that it gives you a chance to get a higher seed at Valley,” Leon said. “That way you can be placed higher at Masters and not seeing the No. 1 kid in your first match as a low seed. But in the end, it’s about wrestling who you’ve got. You wrestle what you’re given.”
Five of the top 15 wrestlers in California at 138 are in the section D-I field. Leon said last season in the Yosemite Divisional tournament was an eye-opening experience.
Now, he is the one everyone is gunning for this weekend, and he is excited about the opportunity.
“It’s a little scary knowing you are the guy they want to take out and beat,” Leon said. “Especially at this tournament. It just makes people know you are at the top for a reason.”
Wherry said the leadership Leon has gained this season is a big reason why he feels the Bulldogs have a strong shot at a divisional title and Leon has a chance to repeat as a CIF State qualifier.
“When you have a guy that has already been to the big show as a freshman, he’s got nowhere else to go but up,” Wherry said. “A guy like Dominic has a great opportunity this year.”
Locals dominating at girls divisional
It was a strong opening day for locals on Wednesday at the Central Section girls wrestling southeast divisional tournament at Mission Oak High School in Tulare.
Of the 56 semifinalists seeking a divisional title on Thursday, 38 are from Kern County, including nine wrestlers from Golden Valley.
Led by Frontier freshman Jacqueline Hernandez — the lone Kern County wrestler ranked in the top-four in the state — the section Masters tournament on Feb. 15-16 likely will have a large Kern County contingent.
The top eight in each of the 14 weight classes will advance to Masters next week.