With five likely starters expected to miss the mat this season and another three football players still awaiting service on the active roster, Oakdale High’s rag-tag collection of varsity wrestlers wasn’t expected to continue the tradition of dominating their host tournament to open the season.
So much for expectations.
Oakdale wrestlers landed nine trips to the gold medal match, six tournament titles and 14 total top-six medals across 14 weight classes at the 36th Annual James Riddle Classic on Saturday at OHS.
When Oakdale junior Zack Fallentine emerged from the 285-pound finale with a 5-2 victory, it capped a one-sided team title run that left Oakdale (275.5 points) well ahead of second place Lodi (193). And Fallentine’s three consecutive wins to claim a heavyweight title didn’t score a single point for Oakdale’s ‘A’ team.
The Mustang junior and football player was given ‘B’ team duties after only five days of practice left him grossly underweight and lacking in varsity experience. Fully clothed and burdened by his shoes and cell phone, Fallentine weighed just 230 pounds for Saturday’s weigh-ins. His varsity tournament résumé consisted of an 0-2 appearance in last year’s Riddle tourney when he wrestled at 189 pounds, so he was unseeded into this year’s 285-pound bracket.
But seeds don’t do the wrestling for you. Fallentine upset Corey Bayer of Hilmar (No. 1 seed) with a 6-1 win in the semifinals and secured a three-point win over Buhach Colony’s Michael Escobar with a last moment takedown in the final match of the tournament.
“My dad (Chris Fallentine) had given me lots of talks about how to go with the big guys, but I was worried because I had never wrestled guys that big before,” Fallentine said. “To come in first place at a varsity tournament in Oakdale felt great.”
Gold medal hardware was also snared by Oakdale’s Nico Colunga (106), Juan Garza (113), Max Stevens (120), Tyler Noon (138) and Dustin Harris (170).
Oakdale was without football players Tyler Malone, Hondo Arpoika and Miko Arpoika, who should join the active lineup this week.
The program suffered a huge hit when returning state qualifier Ronnie Stevens was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a broken wrist that will require surgery. The junior was expected to challenge for a state medal after an active summer promoted him to 17th on the California Wrestling Newsletter state rankings to start the season.
Stevens joins a list of inactives that includes former state medalists Garrett Fortado (ranked No. 10 in state), who will not be eligible to compete. Dillon Thomasovich (currently ineligible), Andrew Markel (not wrestling) and returning Sac-Joaquin Section Masters qualifier C.J. Picinich (not wrestling) are also expected to miss the season.
“We have had a lot of disappointing things happen, but the guys we have are staying with it and they want to wrestle,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “This group of kids are super hard workers and they are hungry.
Stevens said that though his team doesn’t sport the same prestige it did a season ago with grapplers like Shane Tate, Trent Noon, David Ferry, A.C. Brown and Tanner Feuerstein (all graduated), they show a serious desire to take advantage of opportunities in the varsity lineup.
“A lot of these wrestlers have been behind those guys who aren’t here anymore, and they see chance to start,” coach Stevens said. “Because of that they wrestle very hard.”
Colunga landed the first title in the James Riddle brackets when he nabbed a 16-0 technical fall over Kyle Sharp of Carson (Nevada). He was followed by a 5-0 Garza win over Dominique Dominguez of Gregori and an impressive three-minute pin from Max Stevens over Carson’s Adan Ortega.
“I just took over my brother’s weight after he broke his wrist, so there was pressure to do what he would have done in this tournament,” Max said afterwards. “We were looking forward to him being on the team because he is probably our best wrestler. He works the hardest and wrestles the most.”
Jake Jacobson (No. 3 seed) reached the 126-pound finals with a thrilling 6-5 win over previously unbeaten and second-seeded McCoy Kent of Enochs (7-1) in double overtime. He grabbed a takedown on returning Nevada state medalist Cole McCarthy of Carson in the weight’s gold medal match, but was turned to his back and pinned in the first round.
Tyler Noon gave Oakdale its fourth title with a 7-1 win over Jerry Elsey of Calaveras and watched teammate, Harris, outwork Buhach Colony’s Cesar Sotelo in a 17-0 tech-fall. Harris scored early and often in the one-sided title match.
“It’s always the strategy to start fast,” Harris said. “Everyday it’s constant work and the ultimate goal is to win a state title. If you don’t believe you can win it, then you don’t belong there in the first place.”
Jeremy Brandau made the most of his position in the 195-pound bracket by fighting off his back in a thrilling semifinal with Orestimba’s Caleb Wilkinson (No. 2 seed). Brandau pinned Wilkinson in the third round, but fell to the same fate against top-seeded Daniel Frazier of Lodi in the finals.
Kyle Cupit won a 6-5 thriller over Hilmar’s Anthony Melo in the semifinals at 220 pounds, but lost a match to his former teammate in the weight finals when Downey wrestler and former Mustang Jaime Barajas capitalized on two Cupit technical violations (locking hands) to win 5-4.
Abel Caliz (third, 145 pounds), Eric Barrigan (third, 285). Tanner Reeves (fifth, 152), Robbie Barnhart (fifth, 132) and Bailey Dryden (fifth, 170) also landed medals.