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Local wrestlers headed to nationals

April 02, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN,Sports Writer

In three days Imperial High School's A.J. Smith and Brawley Union High's Hector Carrillo will be taking the trip of their wrestling lives as they travel 3,000 miles to compete in the three-day high school national wrestling tournament at the University of Delaware in Newark.

When the two lace up their wrestling shoes and hit the mats, they will be the first Valley wrestlers to compete in the national tournament.

While Smith and Carrillo are similar in how they earned spots in the national tournament, both by taking sixth place at the state tournament, their roads to Delaware couldn't be further apart.

For the 18-year-old, 152-pound Smith, wrestling is life. With a father who is a former collegiate wrestler, Smith has been wrestling seemingly since he was born. He's competed in national wrestling events before, having wrestled at freestyle competitions the past two years, and is a three-time CIF San Diego Section champion, three-time state qualifier. Competing in the national event is a goal he's had his eyes set on for four years.

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"This is something I've been working toward since I was a freshman. I got really serious about it last year, though," said Smith. "When I was a junior and my senior year was coming up, I just said, ‘Well if there's any time for me to do this, I have to do it now.' "

Only the top six in each division in California earn a trip to the nationals and Smith narrowly missed the cut last year by taking seventh in the state meet.

The 17-year-old, 142-pound Carrillo doesn't have the wrestling background like Smith, having only wrestled for four years, but he has already become one of the most dominating grapplers the Valley has seen in some time. An example of Carrillo's domination was the CIF San Diego Section Division III tournament at Southwest High School in El Centro. In four matches he recorded four pins, all in the first minute, and only wrestled a combined 3 minutes, 22 seconds in winning his first CIF crown.

While many would be ecstatic with the opportunity to compete in a national event, Carrillo's emotions are expressed with a simple shoulder shrug.

"Yeah, I'm pretty happy about going, but I think this means more to coach (Keith) Smith than it does to me," said Carrillo. "A lot of people talk about how big this is and how much it means, but it's not really that big a deal to me.

"I'm just going in trying to beat people. I'm not psyched out. Those guys don't scare me. If I get beat, I get beat. If I lose, I'm not going to cry or bitch and complain about it."

That attitude may be the thing that works for Carrillo. It is said those with nothing to lose are the most dangerous.

Said Brawley coach Keith Smith of Carrillo and A.J. Smith's chances at the tournament: "I really do believe both of them can place. But they have to go in there with the mindset that they're going to be wrestling guys who are two- and three-time state champions. Hector's going to be ready. I really expect him to medal."

What Keith Smith said may be the difference is the conditioning of the two local wrestlers. He thinks there will be some wrestlers who haven't wrestled since the end of the postseason, whereas Carrillo and A.J. Smith have been putting in work just about every day since.

Carrillo has been running about two miles every morning, along with trudging up countless hills at Cattle Call Park in Brawley. In the afternoons he practices about an hour and half, with 24 minutes of actual wrestling.

Smith has been working out afternoons as a member of Imperial's track and field team, with wrestling practice right after track workouts.

Smith has been to national competitions and he knows what to expect. He's not going to be overwhelmed by anything.

Imperial coach Pete Martinez said: "I think both of them have pretty good chances of placing in the top eight. Their chances are as good as anyone. I mean, they're not going there just for the trip. They're going to try to do something."

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