SPOKANE - No matter how the Sunnyside High School boys wrestling team fares at this coming Friday and Saturday's 3A State wrestling tournament, it'll just be icing on the cake.
That's because the Grizzlies this past Saturday accomplished a feat that Sunnyside hadn't pulled off since 1996. They captured the Regional team championship, besting a highly regarded 12-school field from the Columbia Basin Big Nine and Greater Spokane leagues.
If winning the Regional title wasn't reason enough for celebration, the Grizzlies had a few other accolades they could hang their hats on. For starters, senior Nathan Gonzalez - bound for a fourth consecutive trip to the State tourney - was named the region's lower weight class wrestler of the year. In addition, Sunnyside's George Paulus was voted both the CBBN and regional coach of the year. To top it off, Sunnyside's Jason Moyer was selected as the top assistant coach for 2011-12.
Winning the Regional team title gives the Grizzlies a clean sweep this season. Sunnyside laid claim to the 3A CBBN league championship with a perfect 7-0 dual meet record, then handily dusted off the competition at the CBBN District tournament two weekends ago.
In tallying a meet-best 162 points at University High School in Spokane last Saturday, Sunnyside finished 20 points ahead of the host team, which claimed runner-up honors at Regionals. Placing third through fifth behind the Grizzlies (162) and University (142) were Mt. Spokane (131), Shadle Park (123) and Pasco (118).
The top three finishers in each weight bracket at Regionals advance to the State tourney, slated for Feb. 17-18 in Tacoma. Sunnyside moves six wrestlers onto State, as well as two alternates who may get a chance to compete if illness or injury befalls one of the regular qualifiers.
Heading the list of the eight Sunnyside boys moving on to State is sophomore Jesse Barajas, the Grizzlies' lone titlist at Regionals last Saturday.
A fourth-place finisher at State as a freshman last season, the 106-lb. Barajas cruised through his opening two matches in Spokane last Saturday. He registered a pin and a technical fall to advance to the finals, where he was forced into overtime before pulling off a 6-4 decision against Eastmont's Fabian Wickham.
Sunnyside had three other grapplers who made it into last Saturday's finals, as well, although all three ended up settling for runner-up honors.
The first of the second-place finishers for the Grizzlies was Gonzalez. Competing at 126 lbs., the senior opened Regionals with a pin and a 12-0 victory. In the championship tilt, Gonzalez got out of position and was rolled by Shadle Park's Terrance McKinney, who pinned him in the opening round.
"Hopefully, Nathan will get another shot at the McKinney kid at State," said Paulus, expressing his belief that Gonzalez has the experience to avenge the loss.
Senior Miguel Guzman also nabbed a second-place finish at Regionals for Sunnyside. Wrestling at 195 lbs., he opened a 4-1 lead on Shadle Park's Cameron Babcock in the title bout, but got flipped onto his back and was pinned. Guzman made it into the finals via a pin of his first opponent and a 4-2 win in the semi-finals. The senior made it to State last season as an alternate.
The last of the runners-up at Regionals for the Grizzlies was sophomore Austin Carman (220 lbs.). The grappler who bested him in the finals, West Valley's Robert Koch, prevailed by a 6-4 score. Ironically, Carman had defeated Koch in their three previous match-ups this season.
Paulus said Carman fell behind early on, trailing 4-0, and instead of trying to out-wrestle the Ram the rest of the way, the Grizzly "...tried to overwhelm him, which got him into a bit more trouble.
"Austin is young, so hopefully he learned something in this one and it will pay off down the road," Paulus added.
Securing State tourney berths, too, for Sunnyside were juniors Santos Guerrero and Sam Romero.
Guerrero, at 113 lbs., went 3-1 on the day at Regionals. The biggest of his three victories came in the consolation finals to decide third/fourth place honors. There, he dusted off Dalton McDonald of Pasco rather handily, winning 13-4. For Guerrero, this will be his second trek to Tacoma to compete at State.
Romero, wrestling at 160 lbs., will be making his first trip to State in what has been his first season ever on the Grizzly wrestling team. In the consolation finals he squeaked out a 1-0 decision over Anthony Fleck of Mt. Spokane.
The two other Grizzlies who advanced to the consolation finals last Saturday, but lost and had to settle for fourth-place finishes and the alternate spots to State that came with those placings, were Homer Romero (106 lbs.) and Isidro Ramirez (138 lbs.). Both, Romero and Ramirez posted 2-2 records on the day.
Claiming fifth-place honors at Regionals for Sunnyside were Anthony Chavez at 120 lbs., Isaac Guerrero at 132 lbs. and Josue Pinedo at 195 lbs. All three tallied 2-2 marks in each of their four matches on Saturday.
Rounding out the medalist finishes for the Grizzlies was Ramon Hernandez, who went 1-3 in his four bouts at 152 lbs. for a sixth-place finish.