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Tim Vanni: Wrestling out of Olympics is 'devastating'

12:00 AM, Feb. 16, 2013 EST

Porterville's Gregory Pagela, right, and Monache's Brian Leypon compete in the 152-lb match during the EYL Wrestling Tournament at Mission Oak High School on Saturday, February 9, 2013. / Ron Holman

News of the International Olympic Committee executive board dropping wrestling from the program of the 2020 Games dropped like a bombshell on the sport this past Tuesday.

Wrestling organizations and national Olympic bodies around the world reacted as if the sport was under attack as the decision sparked sharp backlash and criticism.

Local wrestling coaches had a few choice thoughts of their own.

"It's extremely painful," Porterville head coach and two-time U.S. Olympic wrestler Tim Vanni said. "It's Disappointing. I can only imagine it's like losing a body part."

Vanni, who finished fourth in the 1988 Games in Seoul and fifth in the 1992 Games in Barcelona, went on to use words such as "shock" and "devastating" to describe his reaction to the news. If the decision holds, Vanni feels it will devastate USA wrestling.

Redwood head coach Dave Watts is an association director for California USA Wrestling. He made a concerted effort to keep his reaction in check while realizing that there is still a long process to play out before the sport is officially eliminated from the 2020 Games.

"(Wrestling) will probably get put back in (the Olympics) because it is so big around the world," Watts said. "It was one of first sports in Olympics. There will be a campaign world wide to get it back in. We'll see a big answer in next week or so. I don't see it getting taken out."

The move to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games must still be ratified by the full International Olympic Committee in September. It remains on the program for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Watts said the IOC led wrestling to believe it was not on the "chopping block" so it would not make plans in advance to save its spot in the Games.

Wrestling now joins seven other sports vying for one opening on the 2020 program: a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and the martial art of wushu.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Wrestling dates back to the ancient Olympics and has been featured since the inaugural modern games in 1896.

Yosemite Divisionals

Wrestling's equivalent to a Valley championship for basketball and soccer is only the second of three qualifying legs for the state tournament, but don't make the mistake of underestimating its importance.

Tulare County coaches sure aren't overlooking this weekend's competition with a Masters tournament in Visalia on the horizon.

"We're sitting in the toughest section in the state," Vanni said. "It's an extreme hot bed for wrestling. It's quite the accomplishment to finish on top of the podium."

Redwood puts so much stock in the Yosemite Divisionals that Watts wants his team to peak for it.

"If we can get through this tournament, we have a good chance of making it to state," Watts said. "It's one of the tougher tournaments in state. If you make it through the Yosemite schools, you're probably one of top in state."

That cream of the crop qualifying out of Madera South Friday and Saturday will head to Visalia on Feb. 23 for the Masters at Mt. Whitney. Visalia wrestling fans will see the state's elite compete against each other for the final spots in the state tournament March 1-2 at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.

Many of those wrestlers will hail from Tulare County.

No coaches wanted to make any predictions heading into such a competitive tournament, but local teams have plenty to be excited about this postseason.

That list starts with a pair of potential state champions.

Porterville's Mason Pengilly (120) is unanimously ranked No. 1 in the state at his weight by multiple websites. Monache's Matt Gamble (106) once held that same honor before dropping down to No. 2 in The California Wrestler and Cal Grappler ranks.

Both former state placers drew the top seed in their Divisionals bracket but will be pushed by other highly ranked wrestlers within their weight class.

Redwood's Joey Cisneros (106) drew the No. 3 seed and is ranked No. 7/8 in the state after winning five consecutive tournaments. He missed out on a potential matchup with Gamble when Monache pulled out of the Redwood invitational, but the two will almost certainly meet up at Madera South and/or Mt. Whitney.

Porterville's Juan Javier Jimenez is also in the mix, seeded No. 6 and ranked 13/12 in the state.

Pengilly leads a 120-pound weight class that is equally stacked with Tulare County wrestlers from Porterville, Monache and Redwood. Monache's Seth Hood is seeded No. 3 while Redwood's Darrion Harris is seeded No. 7.

The 126-pound weight class also features three seeded Tulare County wrestlers. Porterville drops out of the mix here in exchange for Mission Oak, which is represented by No. 5 Delano Hendrix. Monache The Maurauders and Rangers are still represented, however as Monache's Josh Sibayan drew the No. 4 seed and Redwood's Aaron Watts drew the No. 7 seed.

No other weight class features more than one seeded wrestler from Tulare County.

Porterville's Abel Contreras (132) is the last of the No. 1 seeds. His teammate Martin Sandoval (138) drew the No. 2 seed. The Panthers also feature No. 5 seeded Gregory Pagela (152) and No. 8 seeded Eduardo Madrigal (220).

Despite qualifying a wrestler at every weight for Divisionals, Vanni knows the Panthers will be fortunate to advance any more than their six seeded athletes through to the Masters.

"We've got a good crew going in," Vanni said. "Getting five or six through would be very pleasing."

Redwood also features No. 7 seeded Blake Marple (160) and No. 8 seeded Isaiah Torres (113). The Rangers qualified 11 total wrestlers for Divisionals.

Mt. Whitney's Jaime Galvan (195) is the only other seeded wrestler from Tulare County. He remains the Pioneers' best hope at giving their home fans someone to root for when hosting the Masters.

Lighter Is Better

Anyone who watched Tulare Union's John Moskowitz wrestle last season probably did a double take the first time they saw him on the mat this year.

Redskin football fans may not have even recognized him at all.

That's because Moskowitz dropped 60 pounds and five weight classes in a span of three months.

The former heavyweight won an East Yosemite League title on Feb. 9 at 170 pounds. He wasn't seeded at the Yosemite Divisionals, but he is a force to be reckoned with at his new weight.

Tulare Union head coach Daniel Chamalbide initially rejected the idea when Moskowitz first presented it at the end of last season. He selfishly wanted Moskowitz to be his 220-pounder and didn't think dropping so much weight would help one of his best wrestlers.

Now that the transformation is complete and a league title is in the bag, the coach has changed his tune.

"I talked to his dad and him mom thought he was crazy," Chamalbide said. "When his dad said sure, we took our hands off. He took it on and he looks like a 170-pounder."

Chamalbide has seen wrestlers drop 30 pounds, but never twice that amount.

Moskowitz said his goal was to wrestler at 195, but he just kept shedding the weight. He played football this fall at 230 pounds.

For anyone wondering about his weight loss secret, Moskowitz said his plan simply consists of running, working out and eating healthy. Following that regimen at a championship level, however, is the real secret to success.




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