The championship mat at Oakdale High was supposed to feature the best two wrestlers in each weight during the medal round at the eight-team Valley Oak League Individual Wrestling Championships on Saturday.
Instead it appeared to be hosting an Oakdale dual meet.
Mustang wrestlers made the finals in 13 of the 14 total weight classes, ultimately claiming nine conference titles and 14 top-three finishes to advance the entire varsity lineup to the next level of the postseason.
Oakdale will tackle the best wrestlers from the VOL, Western Athletic Conference and Sierra Valley Conference in 12-man brackets spanning two days of action on Friday and Saturday. The top-five place winners in each weight will advance to the Sac Joaquin Section Masters tournament on Feb. 23 and 24.
“I think sending 13 guys to the league finals is pretty good,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “The finals were pretty exciting and had some good match-ups.”
Nico Colunga (106), Juan Garza (113), Max Stevens (120), Tyler Noon (138), Tyler Malone (145), Dustin Harris (160), Miko Arpoika (170), Kyle Cupit (195) and Zack Fallentine (220) all captured tournament titles for the Mustangs.
Jake Jacobson (126), Robert Barnhart (132), Hondo Arpoika (182) and Eric Barragan (285) placed second while Tanner Morgan (152) finished third.
Colunga started off the finals with a dominant first round pin over Kimball’s Reese Chew. Garza followed with a hard-fought 4-1 edging of Luis Ochoa of Weston Ranch.
Stevens, who had won a narrow victory over Lathrop standout Andrew Aquino previously in the season, trailed Aquino 5-4 in the third round their title match on Saturday. He fought back with a late takedown and near-fall count for an 11-8 victory.
Barnhart succumbed to near-fall points to Weston Ranch standout Joe Gomes in the waning seconds of his bracket finale.
A match later, Noon found revenge for last year’s defeat to Sonora’s Austin Ramirez in the league finals by dominating Ramirez in a 9-1 title victory.
“It feels good to avenge my loss from last year,” Noon said. “Last year I kind of underestimated him, and this year I took him a lot more serious.”
Malone got the upper hand earlier on Sierra’s Lucas Widmer and stayed tough late for a 91 victory. Morgan ended his tournament strong with a 9-3 win over Elliott Tripp to secure Oakdale’s bronze medal win in the following weight.
Harris, back for the second straight weekend since an early injury, landed his third career VOL title after a quick pin over Lathrop’s Omar Guzman. Harris is ranked No. 10 in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter.
“This is the beginning of the real season,” Harris said. “It’s the beginning of where it matters.”
Miko Arpoika upended Lathrop’s Jay Butler after an 8-2 decision in the next weight. He watched his brother, Hondo, fight to a 7-6 loss to returning D-IV champion Donnell Sims at 182 pounds. Hondo fought to escape and come within a point with 30 seconds to go, but couldn’t secure a takedown in the final moments.
Cupit outlasted Kimball’s Chris Sampino 7-4 at 195 pounds. The Mustang senior was fourth at 285 pounds a year ago, wrestling up several weight classes.
“I just have got to stay tough and keep fighting,” Cupit said. “My goals are to win divisionals, try to win Masters and go to state.”
The Cupit win paved the way to arguably the most exciting finale at any weight when Mustang grappler Zack Fallentine tangled with Isreal Lopez of Weston Ranch.
Lopez led for the entire match, but couldn’t contain Fallentine in a heroic third round that saw the Oakdale wrestler fight to his feet over and over again. The constant work forced Lopez to illegally lock his hands on three separate occasions. The penalty points and a late escape awarded Fallentine a 7-5 win.
“I knew that I was losing and I just knew that I needed to get up,” Fallentine said afterwards. “I knew that if I could try my best to get away he would start to crumble and lock hands because he couldn’t keep me from escaping.”
“We expect the same amount of conditioning and performance from the big guys as we do the small guys,” coach Stevens added. “Zack really enjoys wrestling and he really wants to win.”
The D-IV championships begin at 11 a.m. on Friday at Weston Ranch in Stockton. The first day of tournament action will see just two championship rounds and one consolation round. The semifinals begin at noon on Saturday and the tournament will wrap up with championship matches at 5 p.m.
“We need a lot of focus and intensity at this point,” Stevens said. “The guys have been good about that but I want to see more of it as our postseason is picking up.”
Seven Oakdale wrestlers nabbed junior varsity medals on Saturday. Karrell Estell (113), Joey Jacobson (126), Bailey Dryden (170) and Jeremy Brandau (184) won their weights. Frankie Trent (170) was second while Cedric Vieira (170), Miguel Ibarra (195) and Willy Rupe (285) finished third.