Tyler Noon must have known something we didn’t last year.
Oakdale High’s talented middleweight wrestler deflected nearly all of his interviews during the 2012-13 season to comments regarding his lightweight teammate, Ronnie Stevens.
Stevens was forced to miss all of last year when a broken and dying bone in his hand required a bone graft. He still made an appearance at practices and contests throughout the season to support the team through another year that saw the Mustangs capture Division IV and team duals Sac-Joaquin Section banners.
Noon would request interviews for his pal at nearly every opportunity and even give Stevens credit for victories he could only watch. Maybe he missed Stevens’ presence on the mat or maybe he wanted his sparring partner to know he was still a part of the team.
One thing is certain — Stevens was planning his return with great vigor.
The senior who broke onto the California wrestling scene with participation in the state tournament as a sophomore has erupted with a furious charge into his final prep campaign.
Stevens is 22-4 as a 120-pound senior and was undefeated at the James Riddle Classic, The Morning Star Invitational and the John Zhender Duals. He finished fourth at the prestigious Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno, then landed the best performance of his career when he claimed a fourth-place medal at the Doc Buchanan Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 5.
The Doc Buchanan is considered the toughest tournament in California, and in some weights, is even better than the state tournament. Forty-one nationally-ranked wrestlers (including some who made the trek from Oregon, Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania), 259 ranked California wrestlers and members of the No. 2 ranked team in the country (Wyoming Seminary Preparatory School of Pennsylvania) were present in the 32-man brackets across 14 weights.
It was among this field that Stevens (ranked 13th in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter) avenged a prior loss by toppling Nicholas Marquez of Foothill (ranked 11th) in the championship quarterfinals. The win propelled him to the semifinals, where he was bested by returning state champion Isaiah Locsin of Live Oak. Stevens would go 1-1 in the consolation bracket to finish fourth. The only wrestlers to place higher than Stevens are returning state medalists ranked first, third and fourth in California.
After Stevens landed Oakdale’s best finish at the Doc Buchanan, it’s safe to say the rust from his vacant junior season has officially worn off.
“Sitting out last season was very difficult for him,” the senior’s father, coach Brian Stevens said. “He still has a way to go but he is wrestling very well.”
Coach Stevens credits his son’s rebound to his love of the sport, his attitude and an incredible array of work Stevens put forth in the offseason. The lightweight was medically cleared in the spring of 2012, and immediately began a regimen of preseason work that included around 60 matches against stiff opposition.
“All the summer work is now just starting to pay off as his strength, technique and timing seems to be kicking in,” coach Stevens said. “Our off-season schedule has those that want to get better wrestling almost every weekend against very tough competition.”
Stevens was one of only six Mustang wrestlers to make the trek to the Doc Buchanan. Oakdale still placed 16th, was just one team point shy of a Ponderosa team ranked third in Colorado (class 5A) and out-pointed Oregon’s No. 2 ranked 6A team (Roseburg).
Sophomore Nico Colunga (ranked 10th in the state) bested his seventh place seed at 106 pounds by nabbing fifth and made a case for climbing up the state rankings by besting Perez Perez of Windsor (ranked eighth). Colunga is Oakdale’s second-highest state ranked wrestler (behind only Noon).
Noon (ranked ninth in the state) was seeded just 12th in one of the toughest brackets of the tournament at 152 pounds. He finished higher than expected after three consecutive wins in the consolation bracket propelled him to an eighth place finish. His bracket included two wrestlers ranked top-20 nationally and seven ranked top-six (one at 145, four at 152, one at 160) in California. Noon fell twice to returning state medalist Kyle Perreault of Clovis East (No. 2 at 160) but upset No. 6 ranked Zac Contreras of Archbishop Riordon to guarantee his position on the medal podium.
Jake Jacobson was 2-2 at 138 while Max Stevens (132) and Zach Fallentine (220) both won one match.
Oakdale also sent wrestlers to the Turlock Bulldog Classic, where seven wrestlers placed to lead the team to a third-place showing. Logan Eaton (106) and Tyler Malone (160) emerged as champions of their bracket.
Medals were also awarded to Karrel Estell (fourth-115), Trevor Williams (third-120), Joey Jacobson (fifth-132), Frankie Trent (fifth-182), and Hondo Arpoika (third-220).
Oakdale was ranked 16th as a team as of Dec. 20, but could see an alteration to that mark after upset wins at the Doc Buchanan and the elimination of state-ranked seniors Miko Arpoika and Eric Barragan (both elected not to join the team after football).
Oakdale returns four former state qualifiers (Colunga, Juan Garza, Ronnie Stevens, Noon), and has the potential to send around nine to Bakersfield in 2013. Max Stevens, Malone, Arpoika, Fallentine and Jake Jacobson narrowly missed the opportunity to qualify last year, but Arpoika and Fallentine are both at 220 this year and neither appears well suited for the leap to 285. Arpoika was listed at 210 pounds during the football season, and has the best chance of slipping to 195.
Garza (ranked 13th in the state) was a Masters champ a year ago, but didn’t compete last week and has struggled thus far this season. He took an early tough loss at the James Riddle, was bested by Gilroy’s Jesse Vasquez (who was fifth at the Doc Buchanan) and also lost to Gabe Balderas of Ceres, who he beat on several occasions in 2011-12.
At 113, Garza is the second step to a gauntlet of Oakdale’s lightweight lineup, the true strength of the team. But the depth doesn’t end in the lower weights. If Max Stevens, Noon, Malone, Trent, Miguel Ibarra (third Riddle, fifth Morning Star) and Arpoika can all drop a weight class by the end of the year, then Oakdale will be incredibly tough in consecutive weights that go Colunga, Garza, Ronnie Stevens, Max Stevens, Joey Jacobson, Jake Jacobson, Noon, Malone, Tanner Reeves (second at the Riddle), Trent, Ibarra, Arpoika and Fallentine.
The potential adjustments would leave Oakdale with only one hole (285), and create a dual meet strength that could rival some of the top programs in the state. Oakdale will be heavily favored to win team dual and Division IV titles either way, but will need as many wrestlers winning matches at Masters as possible if Oakdale is to challenge the likes of Vacaville (ranked second in the state), Bella Vista (ninth), Modesto (ranked 13th) and Elk Grove (ranked 14th).
“We should continue to improve as we get more into wrestling shape and begin moving wrestlers into the weight classes that they will be at when we start hitting our qualifiers,” coach Stevens said. “Our goals this year of course are to get better each day. We obviously want to win team sections, Valley Oak League, (D-IV) and challenge for the Masters Title.
“We also believe we have the potential to be a top-10 team in state.”
Oakdale begins conference action today, Jan. 9, by hosting a three-way dual with Manteca and Lathrop at 4 p.m.