HOQUIAM - Based on how the Sunnyside High School wrestling team has fared at tournaments this season, the Grizzlies have to be licking their chops in anticipation of the 3A State tourney.
Sunnyside wrapped up its 2004-05 regular season tournament schedule this past weekend with a dominating third place showing at the prestigious 15-school Hoquiam Invitational. The Grizzlies, behind senior Steve Sanchez's 119-lb. title run, tallied 161 and a half points at the Hoquiam tourney. The vaunted 2A Othello Huskies edged Sunnyside for second place honors with 166 and a half points. Host Hoquiam won the invite with 170 and a half points.
"Us, Othello and Hoquiam finished pretty tight," said Sunnyside Coach George Paulus. "There were only nine points separating us three.
"There was a pretty big gap between us and the rest of the teams," he added, explaining fourth place Rochester was well back with 139 points.
That Sunnyside performed so well at Hoquiam wasn't all that much of a surprise. In the five invites the Grizzlies have competed this season, they have one tournament championship to their credit, two third place finishes and a fourth place showing. In the season opening White River Invite in Vancouver, Sunnyside placed 10th.
In assessing his club's performance last Friday and Saturday, Paulus said he was pleased more than half of his varsity advanced to the trophy round. Eight of his 14 Grizzlies finished sixth or higher, and three of them made it into the finals.
Of the three finalists, Sanchez was the lone grappler to bring home a title. The senior posted a perfect 4-0 record at the invite to up his season mark to 18-1.
For Sanchez, wrestling at 119 lbs., his toughest match may have come in the semi-finals. Even so, he dominated his opponent, Eddie Bush of Chelan, winning by a 13-6 score. Sanchez routed highly regarded Nick Ruff of Cascade/Leavenworth 10-2 in the title match.
"The Ruff kid, you could tell he wasn't used to losing," said Paulus. "He's a tough kid. Ruff is going to do well at State this year. It was a good win for Steve (Sanchez)."
The two other Sunnyside wrestlers who advanced to the finals and earned runner-up placings were freshman Joseph Villanueva and senior Pete Garza.
Villanueva, at 125 lbs., won his first three matches to make it to the title bout. His reward, unfortunately, was getting pitted against East Valley's Scott Thompson, who pinned the freshman at the Dec. 28 Hanford Invite. This time around, though, Villanueva gave Thompson all he could handle before dropping an 8-4 decision to the Red Devil grappler.
Garza claimed his second place finish in the 275-lb. division. After winning three straight matches to open the tourney, which improved his season record to 17-3, Garza went up against Luke Romero of Elma in the finals. After a scoreless first round, where neither wrestler could maneuver a takedown, Garza started the second period in the down position. Romero ended up breaking Garza down flat onto the mat. Then, using an arm bar move, he levered the Grizzly heavyweight over onto his back to score a pin.
The two runner-up finishes by Garza and Villanueva and Sanchez's 119-lb. title performance were paramount to Sunnyside finishing third in the team standings. But the Grizzlies wouldn't have achieved the bronze medal type performance without the efforts of the rest of the team.
Two prime examples are the performances turned in by junior Carlos Garza and freshman Isaac Romero. Both lost just one bout at the tourney, and both scored a victory in the consolation finals, to earn third place finishes in their respective weight classes.
Garza, wrestling at 189 lbs., sustained his one loss in the quarter-finals-a 16-2 thrashing at the hands of Aaron Dineen of Hoquiam. But in the consolation finals, wrestling for third and fourth place honors, Garza avenged the defeat and pinned Dineen.
"It was like there was two different wrestlers out there when watching Carlos in those two matches against Dineen," said Paulus. "I'm very pleased with Carlos. He put his game together this weekend."
The freshman Romero, who improved to 21-3 on the season at the Hoquiam tourney, decisioned Matt Cantu of Othello by a 5-2 score in the 103-lb. consolation finals.
Paulus said Romero's semi-final match against Tony Farrington of Orting actually pitted the two best 103-pounders at the tourney against one another. Farrington, the eventual titlist in that weight class, blanked Romero 5-0.
Sunnyside's Ricardo Rivera (112 lbs.) and Victor Moreno (160 lbs.) also made it to the consolation finals. Both settled for fourth place finishes.
For Rivera, a sophomore, his fourth place finish could have just as easily been a first place showing. In the semi-finals wrestling against unbeaten Brandon Ashley of Kiona-Benton, Rivera was ahead 12-7 but got flipped onto his back at the end of the match and ended up getting pinned. In the consolation finals, Rivera gave up the lead at the tail end of his bout against Alex Gateman of Vashon Island and was edged, 8-6.
Both matches, said Paulus, were heartbreakers.
Moreno, whom Paulus said wrestled "pretty tough" throughout the weekend, posted a 4-2 record at the tourney. In the consolation finals, Moreno was decisioned 6-1 by Domnatrics Wolzko of Vashon Island.
Michael Graham had the next highest finish for the Grizzlies, placing sixth at 152 lbs. The junior opened the tourney on a high note, pinning the tournament's No. 1 seed in that weight class, Othello's Eddie Barajas, in his opening bout.
"Michael is starting to wrestle very competitively," said Paulus.
Graham ended up with a 3-3 record at the tourney. In the trophy round for fifth and sixth place honors, he sustained a fall at the hands of Matt Williams of Klahowya. At the time of the pin, Graham had built a 2-0 lead on Williams.
Earning seventh place honors in the 171-lb. weight class was Sunnyside's Frankie Candido, who posted a 3-3 record this past weekend. In his final match of the tourney, Candido squeaked by Matt Tackett of Rochester, 3-1.
Sunnyside's Daniel Cruz, a first year wrestler, fared well in his 215-lb. matches. Cruz placed eighth via a 2-4 record. Both of his victories were by pin.
Ulysses Olivarez of Sunnyside was 1-2 in the 145-lb. division. His one victory, a fall, came against Kevin Dodson of Cascade/Leavenworth.
Also competing for the Sunnyside varsity were Greg Burbidge (130 lbs.) and Juan Salinas (135 lbs.). Both posted 0-2 records at the tourney.
Sunnyside also had a pair of JV wrestlers competing at the invite-J.T. Gonzalez (103 lbs.) and Eric Mejia (112 lbs.). Placed on a special all-star junior varsity squad at the tournament, the two managed sixth place showings.
The Grizzlies return to the mat this coming Thursday when Wapato rolls into Sunnyside for a Mid-Valley League encounter. Two days later, Saturday, Sunnyside is scheduled to travel to Davis High School in Yakima for a double dual meet against the Pirates and Eisenhower.