Winning East Yosemite League titles year after year never gets old for Porterville High School coach Tim Vanni, but it's the process required to win that he really loves.
The Panthers clinched their fourth consecutive EYL championship Saturday at Mission Oak High School as all 14 Porterville wrestlers qualified for the Yosemite Divisional Tournament to be held Feb. 15-16 at Madera South High School. Six Panthers won individual titles while five others advanced to the finals as Porterville took home its seventh league championship in nine years.
That's an impressive list of accomplishments, but for Vanni, it's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Below the surface is something he loves even more than achievement.
"I think that's why we're in this business -- to help young men build character and reveal what kind of person they are," Vanni said. "Wrestling is just a small part of it."
Vanni was voted EYL coach of the year. His 120-pound wrestler Mason Pengilly shared league MVP honors with Monache's Matt Gamble (106). Together, the two share lofty expectations as the put the first of four postseason tournaments in the rearview mirror.
Pengilly is taking aim at an individual state title while Vanni hopes to see his team finish among the state's top 5.
"I don't know if that's realistic or not," Vanni said. "Coming out of the Central Section -- it's so deep. It's going to be hard to qualify everyone out of our division. Next week is really important for us having a shot at those kinds of goals. I think it's still within reach."
Monache finished a distant second despite winning four individual champions with nine total finalists. The Maurauders will send 12 wrestlers to Divisionals.
Seven of the 14 championship matches featured a Panther against a Maurauder. Only one final did not feature any wrestler from either of the two Porterville powers even though those schools held the top two seeds in that bracket.
No. 3 seeded John Pacheco (113) from Mission Oak upset Porterville's No. 2 seeded Alex Teran in the semifinals before pinning No. 4 Alex Nava from Delano at 1:15 to win the class championship. Nava upset top seeded Arthur Demerath from Monache in the semis before his fall in the finals.
"(Pacheco) wrestled to his capability," Mission Oak head coach John Navarro said. "He's had the ability all year. If he wrestles to his capabilities he could easily get to state."
Pacheco finished as one of three individual champions from the host Hawks. Robert Alvarado won at 182 followed by Evan Van Beek's comeback win at 195.
Van Beek trailed 6-2 late in the third period before throwing down and pinning his opponent, Skyler Schrein from Monache, in the final seconds.
"I started to stand up and I as I was getting up I saw the head there I just grabbed it and hoped I would go down with it," Van Beek said. "It's pretty cool. I'm pretty happy. It's exciting. I didn't think I was going to be this good at the beginning of the year, so it's kind of exciting to get here."
Jacob Tripp (220) gave the Hawks a third consecutive finalist. He was tied 3-3 in the third period with top seeded Eduardo Madrigal from Porterville before losing 8-3 on a near fall in the final seconds.
Tulare Union's John Moskowitz (170) started the string of four consecutive finalists from Tulare by beating Porterville's Rigo Sanchez 6-3 in overtime. After a scoreless first period of overtime, Moskowitz failed to escape during his turn starting in the down position. Sanchez, however, chose to stay in the up position for the ensuing period, and Moskowitz took full advantage by escaping and landing a takedown for a three-point win.
"He wrestled his match his way," Tulare Union head coach Daniel Chamalbide said. "It wasn't pretty, but he got it done. It's three years in the making."
Mission Oak's Delano Hendrix (126) was the only other finalist from Tulare. He lost 12-8 against Monache's Josh Sibayan.
The Hawks qualified 12 wrestlers for the Yosemite Divisional Tournament. Tulare Union qualified nine and Tulare Western qualified 10. The Redskins finished in fifth place behind Delano, while the Mustangs took sixth.
Before the finals began, Tulare Western's David Arzola hyper extended and dislocated his elbow. He was taken out of the gym on a stretcher by the Tulare Fire Rescue team.
Mission Oak came into the tournament after an injury plagued regular season during which the Hawks lost five varsity starters. Four of those wrestlers had put in a full offseason of 30-40 matches over the spring and summer.
The circumstances left Navarro scratching just to fill out an entire lineup. He was forced to give away a forfeit during the dual season for the first time in his five years as head coach for Mission Oak.
Had the Hawks retained a full-strength lineup, Navarro believes they had a chance to crack Porterville's and Monache's dynasty at the top.
"That was my mindset," Navarro said. "I was visualizing first and I was really determined for first."
Despite the holes in the roster that make for weakened dual lineup, Mission Oak still fields a strong tournament team. That will be tested next weekend, however, as the Hawks advance to the Yosemite Divisional Tournament at Madera South High School.
"This next tournament for every kid in the Yosemite Division is the tournament of the year just because it's talent from the get go," Navarro said. "It's tough to get any kids out of this."
Central Sequoia League
Selma took first place with eight individual champions and all 14 wrestlers qualifying for the Sequoia/Sierra Divisional Tournament Feb. 15-16 at Shafter.
Dinuba finished second with four individual champions: Tomas Ramirez (113), Michael Wright (160), Michocan Perez (182) and David Padilla (195). Four other Emperors advanced to the finals and 11 total qualified for divisionals.
Exeter finished fourth behind Kingsburg with one individual champion: Arulfo Olea (120). Four other Monarchs advanced to the finals and six total qualified for divisionals.
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