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Yacuta, Ramirez lead group of 6 to state tourney
In the state with 906 high schools, you’d think state championships would be divided up into divisions.
That’s not the case in California as just 14 wrestlers will be crowned champions, Saturday night in Bakersfield.
Those champions will have some of the biggest bragging rights imaginable, as they will be the best wrestler in their weight class in the most populated state in the country.
Six Orange Belt standouts will travel to get a piece of this action: 103-pound Lupe Florez (Exeter), 119-pound Jason Gagnon (Exeter), 125-pound Robert Patino (Exeter), 130-pound Shane Yacuta (Porterville), 135-pound Gabe Ramirez (Monache) and 135-pound Micky Phanthavong (Granite Hills).
“The only way I can describe it is just a meat grinder of a tournament,” Monache assistant coach Darrol Rangel said. “It’s one of the toughest if not the toughest state tournament in the country. You’re getting the best of the best here.”
Granite Hills coach Marty Kouyoumtjian said the tournament gets its atmosphere from having most of California’s best wrestlers and coaches in the same arena.
“Oh, it’s electric,” Kouyoumtjian said of the tournament. “There’s probably gonna be quite a bit of excitement.
“It’s one of the sports that requires so much commitment and dedication. Some sports are relatively reserved, but this sport is so intense. If a wrestler was a tennis player, he’d be like John McEnroe.”
There is a maximum of 40 entries in each of the 14 weight classes from the 10 sections across the state with the Central section getting seven entries per class.
Yacuta enters with the highest pedigree among the six local grapplers, placing second at the CIF Section Tournament and being named EYL Tournament MVP.
The Panther sophomore is making his first state tournament appearance and has healed from a rib injury that kept him out during some of the regular season.
He does not get a free pass into the first round, as only one of the seven Central section entrants is safely in the field. Yacuta will face Gary Espinosa, a senior from Alemany High School who was eighth in the Southern section.
Panthers coach Tim Vanni anticipated his sophomore getting here once he got healthy.
“He’s a very talented young man and I had no doubt that he could do this,” Vanni said. “Basically (the postseason tournaments) were gonna be his training ground. He’s in great condition to do very well.”
Yacuta has been training with Phanthavong and a few of his fellow Panthers to get ready for his state matches.
Phanthavong had an up-and-down postseason after mowing down his foes during the EYL slate. He lost to Ramirez in a disputed EYL title match, but rebounded at Divisionals, topping Ramirez in the consolation finals to finish third and advance to the Section Tournament. But he finished seventh there and now is one of the lowest seeds in the 135-pound bracket.
Phanthavong is only the second Grizzly ever to qualify for state (Michael Dummar was the first in 2005) and faces Sultana senior Sean Regan in the play-in round. Kouyoumtjian said Phanthavong is probably the better wrestler on his feet while Regan can control the action on the ground. He thinks his senior should be able to notch vital takedown points.
Ramirez also finds himself in that 135-pound bracket, but he awaits the winner of a play-in match after finishing fifth last weekend.
“He competed at a high level and has really been the star of our team,” Rangol said. “He butted heads with Micky three times this year and the one he won was the counted (the EYL championship match).”
At Divisionals, Ramirez lost the third period and the match to Phanthavong, but was able to eke out a double-overtime win over Coalinga’s Joseph Felipe at Sectionals.
Rangel said he and coach Arthur Demerath spent this week training Ramirez for those last-minute standoffs.
“We’ve just basically been getting him ready for that last-minute scramble,” he said. “He has every bit of skill those other guys do, it’s just those last 30 seconds (that give him trouble).
“We’ve been trying to imbed that in him because if you don’t prepare yourself for those last 30 seconds, it’s like being in the desert with no water.”
Each of the six wrestlers’ play-in and first-round matches will begin between 9 and 10:30 a.m, today.
Check Recordersports.com tonight for a recap of the local wrestlers’ first-day action.
Each Orange Belt wrestler’s
103 pounds: Lupe Florez (Exeter, 7th in Central section) vs. winner of Wayland Zhou (Oakland, 1st in Oakland section) vs. Thien Tran (Irvine, 4th in Southern section)
119 pounds: Jason Gagnon (Exeter, 8th in Central section) vs. winner of Matt Fregoso (Rosemead, 6th in Southern section) vs. Terry Allen (Hogan, 2nd in Sac-Joaquin section)
125 pounds: Robert Patino (Exeter, 6th in Central section) vs. Joey Davis (Santa Fe, 3rd in Southern section) in Play-in round
130 pounds: Shane Yacuta (Porterville, 2nd in Central section) vs. Gary Espinosa (Alemany, 8th in Southern section) in Play-in round
135 pounds: Micky Phanthavong (Granite Hills, 7th in Central section) vs. Sean Regan (Sultana, 4th in Southern section) in Play-in round
135 pounds: Gabe Ramirez (Monache, 5th in Central section) vs. winner of Dimitri Crouch (Santa Fe, 7th in Southern section) vs. Ryan Smith (Liberty, 1st in North Coast section)