Mission Oak's second annual TRUE WRESTLER Invitational features approximately twice as many teams as the inaugural tournament field did last year. Now at 25 schools, Mission Oak coach John Navarro says he wants to keep that number growing, but that may require moving to an earlier date and a longer two-day format.
"We're going to have to turn schools away next year," Navarro said. "The tournament is building up very quick and is attracting out-of-the-area competition. We wrestle out of the area and it helps when other teams know who you are and what area you are from. We have worked hard to build up this tournament -- there are no tricks, you just work hard and long."
The double elimination tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at Mission Oak High School in Tulare. Navarro said the finals are expected to start about 5 p.m. or later Saturday.
Navarro created the tournament to accommodate schools without the budget to attend larger two-day tournaments at this point in the season, but admits he wants to build up his new event into a two-day affair at some point in the future.
"We have great lodging and existing infrastructure to cater to teams, so it would be a great fit for our town and community," Navarro said.
With its current date, the TRUE WRESTLER competes to draw schools against more-established tournaments such as Midcals in Gilroy, CIT in Morro Bay and the Tim Brown Memorial in Sacramento.
Even teams sending wrestlers to Mission Oak, like Exeter and Dinuba, are still opting to send their top wrestlers elsewhere.
Dinuba's Michael Wright (160) is ranked No. 15 in the state and No. 3 in the Valley for his weight class by The California Wrestler. Exeter's Arnulfo Olea (120) is ranked No. 4 in the state and No. 2 in the Valley. Neither wrestler will be in Tulare this weekend, even though their teams will be.
Regardless of how many days the TRUE WRESTLER schedules in the future and what weekend those days fall on, one purpose for the tournament will always remain: hosting a meeting of teams from all areas of the state.
"We've gone around the whole Central Section working our butts off to get teams here," Navarro said. "We'd like to keep building it up to as many teams [as] we can get. We hope to attract competition from the south and north to meet in [the] middle."
One thing Navarro believes attracts schools to the tournament is the unique atmosphere created by Mission Oak's "beautiful" gym. Pulling down the curtain normally used to separate basketball practice will cut the gym in half so fans can focus on a single mat for the championship rounds.
All weight-class winners will receive a custom warm-up jacket from the tournament sponsor, Visalia's Frank Frias with TRUE WRESTLER brand apparel. The coach of the first-place team will also get a custom warm-up jacket.
All three Tulare schools will compete at the TRUE WRESTLER, along with five other Tulare County schools.
The team list as of Thursday was Mission Oak, Tulare Union, Tulare Western, Corcoran, Exeter, Woodlake, Redwood, Hoover, Kerman, Coalinga, Hanford West, Hanford, Yosemite, Roosevelt, Ridgeview, Bakersfield Christian, Granite Hills, Sierra, Delano, Cesar Chavez Delano, Strathmore, Dinuba, Pomona (SS) and Panorama (LA).
Wrestlers to Watch
Here is a list of wrestlers ranked by The California Wrestler who will be competing at the Mission Oak TRUE WRESTLER Invitational. Only the 195-pound bracket features multiple wrestlers ranked at the state level, but five brackets feature at least two wrestlers ranked in the Valley, which could make for some exciting championship bouts.
* At 106 pounds: Joey Cisneros, Redwood (6-State, 1-CS).
* At 120 pounds: Delano Hendrix, Mission Oak (8-CS); Brenden Thomas, Corcoran (9-SS); Darrion Harris, Redwood (14-CS).
* At 138 pounds: Adrian Panduro, Corcoran (5-CS).
* At 152 pounds: Basillio Gutierrez, Kerman (11-CS); Arshdeep Dhanda, Dinuba (12-CS).
* At 170 pounds: Jess Solorio, Hanford (11-CS); Christian Cunningham, Sierra (12-CS).
* At 182 pounds: Nathan Mesa, Woodlake (35-State, 8-CS); Clay Jones, Sierra (12-CS).
* At 195 pounds: Enrique Carranza, Corcoran (27-State, 6-CS); Joseph Santos Valles, Hoover (34-State, 7-CS); David Padilla, Dinuba (11-CS).
* At 285 pounds: Anthony Anaya, Corcoran (9-CS).
That Does Impress Me Much
This is only my third season covering prep wrestling (or even watching it, for that matter), so I'm pretty new to the sport. That being said, even I can identify an exciting takedown. Here is a list of my top highlights from the Redwood Invitational and the tri-dual between Redwood, El Diamante and Hanford West:
* 1. Mission Oak's Jacob Tripp (220) pins Golden West's Cesar Delgado in 16 seconds at Redwood Invite. Navarro described it as a "humongous throw." That it came in the 220-pound final made it all the more impressive. I expect to see the middle weights throw each other around, but you could tell Tripp has been doing some serious upper-body work in the weight room.
* 2. In similar fashion, El Diamante's Michael Benedetta (160) pinned Redwood's Ismael Munoz at 3:47 by picking him up, slamming him to the ground and prompting the official to slam the mat just seconds later at Thursday's tri-dual. It came much later in the match, but the move and pin happened just as fast. This was one of the most even matches of the night until Benedetta suddenly displayed complete dominance.
* 3. Dinuba's Israel Rodriguez (170) led his Redwood Invite final 7-4 until the final seconds before Lemoore's Angel Robles swiftly took him down for a pin as the match expired. I kept waiting for Robles to make his move but he held back for so long. Down 3, it looked like he was stalling against himself. When the clock hit eight seconds, the match was over in a flash. We'll call it my "oh, so that's Lemoore" moment.
* 4. Granite Hills' Andy Alvarez edged Exeter's Gabriel Ledesma (126) in an exciting all-Tulare County Redwood Invite final. Ledesma led 4-3 through two periods before Alvarez tied the match during a series of third-period takedowns and reversals. The match ended in a flurry of action and confusion as each wrestler scored just before the final buzzer. Alvarez took a commanding lead with a reversal and near fall before Ledesma scored with a reversal of and an apparent near fall of his own. When the official finally sorted out the points, Alvarez won 11-10. I'm still trying to add it all up a week later.
* 5. Redwood's Darrion Harris (126) looked surprisingly vulnerable against El Diamante's William McDarment until flashing his prowess late in Thursday's tri-dual. The rankings suggested Harris was a significant favorite here, but McDarment hung with him into the third period, and even led early on. With McDarment pressing for a late takedown to even the score, Harris ended all doubt by swiftly putting his aggressor on his back for a major decision at 11-3.