"I told coach I wanted to go to the tournament," said Dowden, who took third at 130 pounds at last year's CIF San Diego Section meet. "Knowing it was a national tournament, I knew there would be good competition."
Both wrestlers competed in 32-wrestler brackets. Villagran finished 5-2, while Dowden was 3-2. The pair both won their first match of the event.
"It went well," said Dowden of his first match. "It was late in the day, but I was ready to wrestle and I won. I made it to the semis on the first day.
"I did better than I expected. I went up with desire and accomplished my goal."
The trip held a different challenge for Villagran. Last season's Imperial Valley League champion and second-place finisher at the San Diego Section Masters Meet, Villagran went up from his usual wrestling weight to wrestle in the 119-pound class. He actually weighed 114 pounds during the event and plans to return to 112 when the high school wrestling season begins.
"I went in healthy," he said. "I didn't lose any weight. It was quite an experience. Guys had come down from 140. It tested my skills right there, wrestling bigger guys.
"All the matches were tough, but I felt great. I felt strong even though I went up a weight class. I'm proud of what I did."
With a tournament already under their belts, both Dowden and Villagran think they have a jump on the competition.
"This is gonna get me ready for the season," said Villagran. "I'm already set to wrestle. I'm already in shape and mentally there. I can use this to get ready for the season."
Said Dowden, "We've got a jump on the competition. Our bodies are already accustomed to wrestling."
Dowden thinks the trip will help him achieve his ultimate goal of winning a state title.
"I want to place in state," he said. "I think I can do it. Coach Smith is running a good program and we can do that."