It’s a good thing the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament is only 30 miles away at the Stockton Arena, because elbow room won’t be any easier to find for Oakdale High’s wrestling team on the way there.
The Mustangs placed all 14 wrestlers in their lineup among the top-five at the SJS Division IV Championships at Weston Ranch on Saturday to qualify the entire team to the next stage of the prep wrestling postseason.
Six Oakdale wrestlers won their brackets in a rally to 276 team points in first place. Valley Oak League and SJS D-IV Duals runner-up, Weston Ranch, was second with 132.5 points.
“I though we could pull it off (send all 14 to Masters), but I thought it would be really hard to do,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “It’s rare to be able to do that and it just came out perfect that we did.”
Nico Colunga (106 pounds), Juan Garza (113 pounds), Max Stevens (120), Tyler Noon (138 pounds), Dustin Harris (160) and Hondo Arpoika (182) all captured section gold in their weight classes. Jake Jacobson (125) and Miko Arpoika (170) finished second while Tyler Malone (145), Kyle Cupit (197) and Zack Fallentine (220) ended third. Robert Barnhart (130), Tanner Morgan (152) and Eric Barragan (285) all claimed fifth place medals to secure the final advancement to Masters.
Barnhart, a four-year wrestler and first year varsity competitor, put everything into a gritty 5-4 double overtime victory over Joe Anthony Gomez of Weston Ranch in the fifth place (to-go) match. Gomez beat him a week ago to win the VOL title, but Barnhart escaped in the last of two overtime periods to clinch the win that mattered most.
“This is the first year that I got to be in the lineup because it’s pretty hard to make it in Oakdale,” Barnhart said. “A lot of emotions went into that match and I don’t really have any words to explain what it was like to win it.”
The Oakdale win was one of three of its kind where Oakdale wrestlers avenged VOL finals losses to Weston Ranch to claim a medal. Barragan, a junior, fell to Willie Cervantes of Weston Ranch in the VOL finals, but captured his Masters qualification by edging Cervantes in a 5-1 decision. Morgan (sophomore), who was just third in league, went 4-2 across both days of the tournament to finish fifth as well. He edged Austin Rompel of Vista del Lago for Masters rights.
Oakdale wrestlers played roles in the two most exciting finals showdowns at any weight. Junior Hondo Arpoika gained the upper hand on a grudge match with Donnell Sims of Weston Ranch after an overtime takedown handed him a 5-3 decision. Sims and Arpoika have traded wins and losses over the past two seasons, both now sharing conference and section title victories against the other.
“I wanted it so bad,” Arpoika said afterwards. “It’s been a good experience to face him every time and it has made me stronger and want to work that much harder.”
The junior then watched his 120-pound freshman teammate, Stevens, deliver another narrow thriller over talented Lathrop senior Andrew Aquino in the bracket finals. The match was tied 4-4 after three periods and a one minute overtime to force two double overtime rounds of 30 seconds each. Stevens escaped and received a penalty point in the first such period, allowing only one point to Aquino in an exciting final round.
“He is pretty tough and he really wanted it because he is a senior and it was his last chance,” Stevens said. “It felt great to win it, and I hope I can be a four-time (D-IV champ).
Fellow Oakdale freshman, Colunga, earned his shot at a fourpeat when he pinned Reese Chew of Kimball in just two minutes, 51 seconds. Garza (junior) followed with his third victory of the season over Ceres state qualifier Gabe Balderas, who he bested 8-0.
Fellow junior, Jacobson, captured a 2-0 lead over Kimball’s Trent Nicholson for the second straight week, but was ultimately pinned in eerie resemblance to a loss of the same fate in the VOL final.
Noon (junior) proved dominant in a 3-0 shutout of Vista del Lago’s Troy Grossi in the bracket finale. He had previously seen junior sparring partner, Malone, best Ben Johnson of Vista del Lago 7-4 for a bronze medal.
Harris, a senior, dominated James Warden of Union Mine with a second round pin in his gold medal match. A match later, Warden’s teammate Mitchell Woods, turned the tables with a pin over junior Miko Arpoika.
Cupit (senior) claimed his bronze after a 3-2 decision over Tyler Martin of Cosumnes Oaks. Fallentine (junior) followed with a second round pin of Livingston’s Josh Coronado in the next weight.
Oakdale wrestlers will take on first round opponents when Masters begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday. The first day of action will see three championship rounds and three consolation ones as the field of 32 in each bracket is narrowed down to 12 for the second day.
The top seven wrestlers in each weight will qualify to the California Interscholastic Federation Championships on March 2 and 3 at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.