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Oakdale Wrestlers Eliminated Short Of A State Medal
3-7 OAK State Harris
Defense of this takedown by Juan Salas of Clovis doesnt prevent Oakdales Dustin Harris from losing this match in the third championship round of the state tournament. - photo by IKE DODSON/THE LEADER

The pinnacle of California prep wrestling took its toll on Oakdale High wrestlers on Friday, as all five California Interscholastic Federation State Wrestling Championships qualifiers suffered painful tournament eliminations on the opening day.

Oakdale wrestlers combined for six first day victories, but struggled in waning rounds against the state’s toughest competitors.

“Every year when you get to the state meet you know it, but you still get reminded that every single guy is really good,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “You don’t have to have a big name to win big matches.”

Junior Tyler Noon, who captured Sac-Joaquin Section Masters silver at 138 pounds a week prior, was Oakdale’s best performer after a three-match win streak in the consolation bracket. Senior Dustin Harris was 2-2 after back-to-back wins opened his bracket, while Juan Garza (junior) went 1-2. Both Kyle Cupit (senior) and Nico Colunga (freshmen) were eliminated in two matches.

“Tyler and Dustin were the closest to making something happen,” Stevens said. “I really think it could have gone either way with them medaling.”

Noon appeared on his way to a first round win when he cradled Josue Hernandez of Madera South for a pivotal takedown in the second period. The move left Hernandez with his back exposed to the mat for several seconds, but Noon failed to receive near-fall points as Hernandez squirmed away for a reversal. The missing points played a big role in the third round, when a Hernandez takedown in the final moments secured a 6-5 win over Noon.

But while the loss dropped Noon to the consolation bracket, it certainly didn’t finish his day. Noon erupted past SJS No. 5 seed Vittorio Sunny Jackson with a stunning 17-2 technical fall, and bested Los Angeles Section champ Steve Mejia of Reseda 9-1 a round later. Noon put out Kevin Garcia of Pasa Robles with a 12-4 decision a round later to reach the fourth round of consolation and the final Friday matches. There, Noon slipped just 2-1 to Michael Behnke of Arlington to end one match short of a top-12 finish.

“It’s nice to get as far as I did, but it would have been great to be able to place,” Noon said. “I know what I need to work on for next year.

“I need to work on a finish, break away from the bottom and keep better pressure on top.”

Harris, who was just seventh at the SJS Masters at 160 pounds, opened his state tourney strong by edging Central Coast Section runner-up Kalen Gans of Palo Alto in a 4-3 thriller. Harris scored three points in the final period to take the lead for good. A round later he topped Zack Douglass of Victor Valley in a 4-1 score, but was dropped to the consolation bracket by Central Section champ Adrian Salas after a 6-3 defeat. A match later, Harris couldn’t stop an overtime takedown by Andrew Tsarnas of Healdsburg, and fell 4-3 to end his prep career. The state tournament was only the fifth consecutive action of its kind for Harris, who missed most of the season with a knee injury.

“It was tough to come back,” Harris said. “But this is my last year so I had no choice.”

Garza, Oakdale’s lone Masters champion (113), started strong with a first round pin over Everett Pratt of Monte Vista. He struggled to an 18-3 loss to CS No. 2 Arnulfo Olea of Exeter a round later, and was out-pointed 8-3 by Johnny Sanchez of Santa Ana in his next match.

“I knew the competition was going to be high, but I guess they were a lot better than me,” Garza admitted. “I need to work a lot harder.”

Cupit (195) delivered a huge performance at Masters to claim a sixth place medal and qualify for state, where he was the victim of two pin losses in his first trip to Bakersfield. He first fell to SS runner up Elder Cruz of La Habra, who went on to snare a state medal. In his next match, Cupit couldn’t maintain an even pace with Jason Price of Hoopa, and was eliminated.

“I worked hard to get here and it means a lot to me,” Cupit said just moments after his last match. “Not many people can make it to state and it’s a big part of my life.”

Colunga has three more shots at a state medal, but was deterred from his hopes this season after consecutive losses to Brawley’s Vincent Elizalde (6-1) and Porterville’s Javier Jimenez (9-1).

“I’m going to cut down to (106 pounds again) and hopefully win it next year,” Colunga said. “I wrestled some really tough kids this year.”

Oakdale wrestlers will tackle frosh-soph and junior divisions at the Folkstyle State Tournament on March 9 and 10. The team graduates just three (Harris, Cupit, Robert Barnhart) of their 14 Masters qualifiers and is expected to return 2011 state qualifier Ronnie Stevens, who missed 2012 with a broken wrist.

“We will have a lot of seniors next year and I think we will be really tough,” coach Stevens said. “I think next year we will see some medals at state for sure.”