ELLENSBURG - Advancing six of its seven wrestlers at Regionals to the State tournament, the Sunnyside Grizzlies are poised for another "Top 5" finish in the Tacoma Dome.
For the second consecutive year, Sunnyside will be sending six grapplers to the 3A State tourney, traditionally held each year in the Tacoma Dome. Last year, the Grizzlies earned fifth place honors in the 3A team standings at State.
Of the six who are moving on to the big dance, two will take Regional titles with them. Claiming first place honors at this past Saturday's Regional tourney in Ellensburg were freshman Isaac Romero and senior Steve Sanchez.
Sunnyside also received a pair of third place finishes from sophomore Ricardo Rivera and senior Pete Garza. Nabbing fourth place finishes at Regionals were Sunnyside's Joseph Villaneuva and Victor Moreno.
Only the top four finishers in each weight class at Regionals earned the right to move on to State competition. The only other team at the Regional competition in Ellensburg to qualify more wrestlers for State was East Valley of Spokane. The Knights, the Regional team champs with an impressive 235 points, will send 11 to State.
In the initial results released, Sunnyside finished four and a half points behind W.F. West of Chehalis for third place honors in the team standings. But it appears the Chehalis school was inadvertently given an extra six and a half team points, which moves Sunnyside up into the second finishing position.
Sunnyside Coach George Paulus explained that Regional tourney officials failed to deduct the six and half team points a Chehalis wrestler earned for his school before getting disqualified from the tournament. The error, once corrected by state officials, will give Regional runner-up honors to Sunnyside. The Grizzlies talied 91 team points in Ellensburg. Chehalis will fall to third with 89 points.
Other than Sunnyside, the Mid-Valley League did not fare well at Saturday's Regional competition. The next highest finishing Mid-Valley League team was Prosser, which placed 11th with 44 and a half points.
"It wasn't a good day for the Mid-Valley in general," said Paulus.
The lone exception was Sunnyside. With six wrestlers advancing to State, the Grizzlies have the numbers to make some noise in the Tacoma Dome.
The odds-on favorite to capture a State crown for Sunnyside is the senior Sanchez. By winning the 119-lb. Regional championship, Sanchez upped his season record to 29-1.
Sanchez opened Regionals by blanking Cheney's Tim Klippert, 15-0. He followed up his opening round whitewashing with a dominating 11-5 victory over Alex Barham of Clarkston in the semifinals. In the title bout, Sanchez was never pressed in defeating Wapato's Francisco Rosales, 12-3.
The freshman Romero, apparently, also stands a pretty good shot at making some waves in the Tacoma Dome this coming Friday and Saturday. In capturing the 103-lb. Regional title, Romero pinned highly regarded Conner Adams of Timberline in the championship match. Romero had forged a 5-0 lead on Adams before claiming the fall. The Grizzly underclassman opened Regionals with a 4-0 decision over East Valley's Anthony Rivera. In the semifinals, Romero got by Prosser's Pedroza by a 7-5 score. Romero is now 34-3 on the season.
Rivera, just a sophomore, posted a 3-1 record at Regionals enroute to taking third place honors in the 112-lb. division. In the consolation finals, he decisioned Riverridge's Nick Uehara, 8-3. Rivera's lone loss last Saturday was a 10-5 decision to Devin Stelter-Moorman of West Valley/Yakima.
Sunnyside's other third place finisher at Regionals, the senior Garza, put himself into an early hole when he dropped an 8-1 decision to Travis DeLong of Aberdeen in the opening round of the 275-lb. weight class. Garza fought back to advance to the consolation finals, though, where he met up against DeLong again. The second time around, Garza was victorious against the Aberdeen heavyweight, winning by a 3-2 score.
In securing fourth place honors in the 125-lb. weight class at Regionals, the freshman Villanueva won a pair of matches against only one loss to advance to the consolation finals. He was edged 6-5 by Andrew Richardson of Tumwater, though, to settle for the fourth place spot.
Moreno, Sunnyside's 160-lb. entry at Regionals, secured his berth to State by beating Aaron Patnode of North Central High School, 7-2, in the consolation semifinals.
"The consolation semifinals, that's the do-or-die match," said Paulus. "The winner moves on with a guaranteed trip to State, the loser has to wrestle for an alternate's spot to State.
"That was a huge win for Victor," Paulus added.
The victory pushed Moreno into the consolation finals, where he was edged by a single point in his match for third and fourth place honors against Chris England of Chehalis.
Sunnyside's one other entry at Regionals, junior Carlos Garza, lost his first two bouts of the day to Max Newberry of Aberdeen (8-2) and Colton Wessen of Centralia (5-3) and was eliminated from postseason competition.
"Carlos ran into some tough competition," said Paulus. "Hopefully, now that he's had a taste of it, he'll earn a trip to State his senior year."