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Local wrestlers hope to shine at CIF meet

February 16, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

There are many stories surrounding the CIF San Diego Section Division III wrestling tournament this year.

Will Imperial High School's A.J. Smith win his third consecutive CIF title? Is it the Imperial Valley against San Diego? Will Brawley Union High School win it all?

All those questions will be answered Saturday at Southwest High School in El Centro as the Imperial Valley hosts its first-ever CIF wrestling tournament.

Competing in the tournament will be 26 Division III teams, six from the Imperial Valley — Brawley, Calipatria, Central Union, Holtville, Imperial and Southwest high schools.

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More than 250 wrestlers will be competing in the double-elimination tournament, used as a qualifier for the Masters tournament, a state qualifying meet. The top six wrestlers in each of the 14 divisions will earn a trip to the Masters, with the fifth- and sixth-place finishers going as alternates.

After finishing with an 11-0 overall mark and a 5-0 Imperial Valley League record, Brawley is one of the favorites to take the team title.

While competing in the much bigger CIF Southern Section, Brawley placed in the top five the past five years. This year the odds are better as 10 Wildcats are seeded in the top four of their weight classes.

Winning it all is definitely on Brawley's agenda.

"We really want to win it all as a team," said Wildcat coach Keith Smith. "But our main goal is after it's all over and finished, I want every one of our kids to feel like they wrestled their absolute best."

Leading Brawley are 103-pounder David Villagran, Jose Reyes (121), Hector Carrillo (142), Bucky Leigh (162) and Jose Gutierrez (heavyweight) all No. 1 seeds.

No. 2 seeds for the Wildcats are 132-pounder Tim Dowden, Miguel Miranda (217) and Kiddo Moreno (154).

Of all the Wildcats, Moreno's road to a CIF title may be the toughest as his bracket is topped by Imperial's A.J. Smith, looking to pick up his third consecutive CIF title.

"That's a big one for us, but every weight is important," said Keith Smith.

Keith Smith thinks some possible dark horses from his team could be 135-pounder Steven Moreno (No. 12 seed), No. 4 seed Andy Buckner (173 pounds), No. 11 seed Markie Cazares (191) and 127-pounder Cesar Mendez, a No. 7 seed.

Mendez will have his work cut out for him. If things go as expected, Mendez will be taking on No. 2 seed Bill Amidon of Southwest. Despite a loss to Reyes in the Wildcat/Eagle duel meet this year, Amidon has been one of the most consistent wrestlers in the Valley. Should they meet, Mendez may be one of Amidon's toughest opponents in the competition.

Amidon has a lot riding on this tournament as it is in his home gym in his senior year and his last chance at a CIF championship.

"It does mean more because of those things, but I'm still just going to go out there, wrestle and leave everything on the mat," said Amidon. "Right now I'm more physically ready than mentally. I'm still feeling a little nervous. But if I can go out there and wrestle well, I think I have a pretty good shot at taking my weight."

Having at least six wrestlers place is the goal of Amidon's coach, David Weldon.

Because his team has been in some tough tournaments this year, and knowing the quality of competition in CIF, Weldon thinks his squad has a realistic shot at achieving its goal.

"All that hard work we put in during the season and at those tournaments … this is where it pays off," said Weldon. "It's unfortunate, but we will have some kids that will end their season out there and then there will be some that place and move on. Wrestling is about an individual performance on an individual day."

One of the smaller schools in the tournament is Imperial High. With a total enrollment of about 600, the Tigers will be competing against teams with enrollments of over 1,500.

Even with that obstacle Imperial coach Pete Martinez thinks his squad can be successful Saturday. It is a challenge, though, he feels may be his team's toughest in awhile.

In years past Imperial competed in 20- to 21-team CIF tournaments, but this year's 26-team field presents a whole new challenge.

"This is probably the toughest CIF we've had in quite awhile. There are more teams and bigger schools, but that's all part of the challenge," said Martinez. "Now's the challenge. Now's when everyone has to step up.

"As far as our team goes, I think our kids are peaking at the right time. We're in as good of shape as we've been and our guys are wrestling really well. We may have some guys do well individually, but what I'm shooting for is for us to finish in the top 10 as a team."

Helping lead the push for the Tigers along with A.J. Smith will be 121-pounder John Woodard, who, according to Martinez, has been wrestling as well as anyone.

Woodard is seeded fifth and in the same bracket as Brawley's Reyes.

Two years ago Woodard finished in second place at CIF at 121but was unable to finish last year because of an injury. In his senior year, Woodard thinks he has something to prove.

He knows the task will be difficult, but is convinced if he is on top of his game he could be a top-three finisher.

With the tournament less than 24 hours away, all the participants will go through various rituals to ready themselves.

For Keith Smith it will mean doing as much as possible.

"I'm going to try to keep myself busy. I really can't wait for this thing. Everyone's excited about it. I'm ready to go now."

Smith and everyone else involved will have their opportunity come 9 a.m. Saturday.

Ticket prices are $7 for adults, $5 for students, $6 for seniors and $4 for children. The championship round is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday.

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