The CIF State Wrestling Championships is still a month away, but several of California’s top teams will get an extra preview of the competition Saturday in Clovis at the inaugural California State Duals.

Although it’s not yet sanctioned by the CIF, the organizers are hoping the state will eventually adopt the dual format when crowning team champions.

“Our goals are always to get better, but I think this weekend is a little bit bigger,” said Frontier coach Carlo Franciotti, who will join Bakersfield High and North as three of 31 elite teams competing in the event. “For the teams that are going it’s more that we’re trying to create something; we’re trying to create something that’s fan-friendly and something that gives other teams an opportunity to succeed besides the individual state tournament that we have.”

The state championships, scheduled for Feb. 27-29 at Mechanics Bank Arena, awards a series of individual champions in specific weight classes, with one team recognized as state champion.

“(The current state championship) is a great product, but with the sport of wrestling it’s kind of a fringe sport,” Franciotti said. “We’re always looking for ways to expand it and get more eyes on it. And dual meets are fan friendly. It’s easier to root for a team for a more casual fan. And if we can create an atmosphere that’s exciting and draws fans, draws eyes and grows the sport then that’s the other goal here.”

Whether the event will catch on remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain, there will be plenty of top-level talent competing on the mat at Clovis North and Granite Ridge Middle School.

Six of the top seven teams in state, as ranked by calgrappler.com will be competing, including four-time defending state champion Clovis-Buchanan. The Bears are ranked No. 1 in the state this season and received the No. 1 seed among the eight teams invited to compete in the Division I at the event.

No. 7-ranked Bakersfield is seeded seventh and will open dual action against No. 2 ranked Poway from the San Diego section at 11 a.m. in the Clovis North main gym. The winner advances to the semifinals where they will face No. 5 Clovis at 1 p.m. The loser faces the loser of the Clovis North-Gilroy match in the consolation quarterfinals.

“It’s a little different, but it’s fun and the kids like it,” BHS coach Andy Varner said. “The spectators will like it. It’s easier to follow and there should be some good competition. It’s a good tuneup to see where we’re at and where we need to go for the end of the year.

“But our goals stay the same no matter what. It’s not what happens here (in town), it’s what happens in February, trying to qualify as many guys as you can for the section tournament and try to finish as high as we can at the state tournament, and trying to bring home as many state medals as we can.”

Frontier received the No. 6 seed in Division II and will square-off against No. 3 Temecula Valley at 11 a.m. in the Clovis North small gym. The winner advances to wrestle the winner of the match between Covina-Northview and Loomis-Del Oro at 1 p.m. The loser faces the loser of that match at 1 p.m.

“We graduated some pretty impactful seniors last year after a good run the past three years at the state level,” Franciotti said. “This year is a little bit different. It’s more, I wouldn’t say rebuilding, maybe reloading. Next year we have some really great incoming freshmen that we’re hoping can be immediately impactful, but on paper we’re not supposed to be performing on the same level, but my hope is that by the end of the year we surprise people.

“Traditionally, that’s what we’ve been doing. Our best wrestling has always been at the end of the year. We usually have a couple of guys that come out of nowhere that surprise people with a higher state medal than anticipated. That’s just what we’re looking at.”

North High was seeded eighth and will face top-seeded Shingle Springs-Ponderosa in the opening match in Division IV at 11 a.m., in the Clovis North main gym. The winner advances to wrestle the winner of the match between Benicia and Orangevale-Casa Roble at 1 p.m. The loser faces the loser of that match at 1 p.m.

“For us, it’s a great opportunity because we can go up there and we can compete, and our kids can compete for a state title versus before with only one division,” North coach Brady Garner said. “It’s a little harder for North High, which is a smaller school, to compete with the Clovis’s and the Buchanan’s that have 5,000-6,000 people. It should be fun for us. I’m excited for the opportunity to show people what North High wrestling is about.

“Everyday we talk about getting better. I believe that we have five or six guys that can qualify for state this year. And this is just a stepping stone. This class right here is going to be responsible for the class of 10 or 15 years from now. When we’re up there with Frontier, BHS and Clovis, they’re the ones starting it. You can’t build a wrestling program in a year. It takes 10 or 15 (years) and these guys are starting it, and we’re just going to keep rolling that snowball down the hill and making it bigger.”

The same could be said for the California State Duals as an event itself.

“And dual meets are fun,” Varner said. “They’re exciting, so it should be good. I mean, we’re going to get to see some really good competition, which is good heading into the postseason here in a couple of weeks. It’s a team concept so sometimes if somebody loses, if they can not lose by very much and save team points, and then all the points accumulate. It’s one team versus another team, and I think it’s great as far as a spectator, too. It’s easier to follow.

“We had a lot more duals (when I wrestled). But they’re coming back. That’s what they do in college. The majority of their season in dual meets and in many other states they have dual meet state championships like the one that they’re trying to start now. I think that’s something that’s good for the sport, and I’m sure they’ll build on it for next year.”

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