YAKIMA - The Sunnyside High School wrestling team made itself at home this past weekend in the 17th annual SunDome Mat Classic in Yakima, finishing fifth out of 27 schools competing.
It marked Sunnyside's first entry in the tourney, and a welcome opportunity to experience a quality tournament without having to crisscross the state.
"It was nice having it in the Valley," said Coach George Paulus. "We were home at 8 p.m. last night (Saturday) instead of 4 a.m. (Sunday). It was pretty cool." Earlier this season, for example, the Grizzlies were snowbound on the west side of the state following a tourney in Buckley.
Besides the short drive to Yakima for his team, the friendly confines of the SunDome offered another benefit. "It was nice to be close so friends and family could watch them. We saw some familiar faces in the crowd," said Paulus.
Sunnyside scored 152.5 team points, less than 10 points behind fourth place Toppenish and within shouting distance of tourney champ Ellensburg's tally of 185.5.
A total of seven Grizzlies placed at the tourney, led by four individual champions. "I was pretty happy," Paulus observed. "We put four kids into the championship matches and all won."
Among the four titlists for Sunnyside were the three Romero brothers. "They were all wrestling their finals at the same time," the coach chuckled. "It drove the family crazy."
Steven Romero was a perfect 4-0 in winning the individual crown at 103-lbs. He decisioned Luis Gomez of Wapato 3-0 in the championship bout. "He (Romero) went into the third round leading by just a point," Paulus said.
Isaac Romero (112 lbs.) followed with a convincing 7-1 decision over Billy Richardson of Bremerton in the championship final to conclude a 4-0 day. The contest was a rematch of last year's State 3A semifinal match, which was also won by Romero.
Josh Romero (119 lbs.) completed the Romero family's triple crown last Saturday with an 8-7 decision over Julio Romero (no relation) of Toppenish in the championship finale. "It was a see-saw battle, a great match. Josh needed everything he had," Paulus said of the nail biter in which Sunnyside's Romero trailed by a point heading into the third round. "He was passive early and that left the barn door open." Paulus said the match turned on a maneuver in which Romero escaped from his opponent and put him on his back.
J.T. Gonzalez was Sunnyside's fourth titlist, taking the 135-lb. championship with an 11-0 major decision of Gilbert Godinez of Toppenish in the title match.
Sunnyside's next highest qualifier was Christian Reyes, a second entry in the 103-lb. weight class with a record of 4-1 who earned fourth-place honors with a 6-4 decision over Armando Hernandez of Toppenish in the title match.
The Grizzlies' Jesus Mendoza (171 lbs.) had a particularly grueling path to the medal stand as he had to win a qualifying match just to get into the competition. He posted a 4-1 record to bring home sixth-place honors. "Jesus put together a pretty good tourney," Paulus noted. "He did a great job and wrestled a real strong tournament. He wrestled intelligently and aggressively."
Sunnyside's youngest podium placer was freshman Emmanuel Tejada, who finished in 10th place in the 125-lb. weight class with a record of 3-2.
Sunnyside also had some near misses at the tourney medal stand, as Shawn Olivarez (130 lbs.) overcame a pair of close losses to finish with a 2-2 record. Also, Danny Alvarez of Sunnyside missed out on a medal in the 152-lb. weight class with a record of 1-2. But one of those losses was a 2-1 heartbreaking loss to two-time defending State champion Yudor Pech of Toppenish.
Also competing for the Grizzlies were Baltazar Avalos (140 lbs.), Tony Garcia (145 lbs.) and Adrian Ramirez (189 lbs.) who finished with 1-2 records. Andrew Swinehart (160 lbs.), Joseph Juarez (215 lbs.) and Adam Peters (285 lbs.) were each 0-2 on the day for Sunnyside.
Sunnyside's fifth-place overall showing came despite missing two key performers, Juan Barajas (215 lbs.) and Danny Almeida (189 lbs.), who were both out with injuries.
The Grizzlies will have some time to heal up as their next competition is not until Friday, Dec. 28.
But that doesn't mean Sunnyside will let up in practice, says Paulus.
"We're going to drill and hit it hard," the coach said. "We're going to work on our conditioning and push that up."