The buzz about this year’s Oakdale High wrestling team didn’t start when locals learned they might get state champion David Ferry in March of last year.
It didn’t start when Oakdale qualified five wrestlers to the state meet last February, and it wasn’t the section-record back-to-back team dual championships in 2009, 2010 that first raised eyebrows.
The buzz started over six years ago, when a crop of Oakdale high youth wrestlers made noise at the state and national level with big accomplishments in freestyle grappling.
Those same wrestlers, along with some stellar newcomers, have combined to form one of the top wrestling teams in the country, and a top-5 California prep program across every division of enrollment.
Oakdale is currently ranked No. 4 in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter, with an incredible 10 wrestlers noted on the state rankings across 14 different weights.
The team placed second at the prestigious Doc Buchanan Classic on Jan. 7 and 8, an event considered the West Coast’s toughest tournament that isn’t dubbed The California Interscholastic Federation State Championships.
Oakdale (142.5 points) outscored state No. 1 Bakersfield (80) and No. 3 Selma (102), losing only to No. 2 host Clovis (220).
Oakdale wrestlers, competing against 73 other schools, landed eight medals — including a tournament championship from undefeated A.C. Brown (215 pounds).
Brown is one of five Mustang seniors who have already enjoyed trips to the state meet, five wrestlers that likely will be nearly impossible to beat as the season progresses and they each grow stronger with their own inter-squad competition.
Brown, Ferry, Shane Tate, Trent Noon and Tanner Feuerstein represent that elite core of upperclassmen in the Mustang wresting room.
“It’s usually those five seniors that fill those team captain roles and take command to help run the practice,” Oakdale coach Brian Stevens said. “Most of these kids have grown up together through the youth system and they have real high expectations for themselves.”
Shane Tate, who has already inked a commitment to wrestle at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, has lost twice to just one wrestler all year. Both of those losses came in arguably the toughest weight of the Doc Buchanan Classic (135 pounds).
In that bracket, Tate knocked a returning state champion to the fifth-sixth place match, and settled for fourth himself after two heartbreaking narrow losses to Gilroy’s upstart William Fox.
“That was a tough tournament, probably one of the toughest I have ever been to,” Tate said on Sunday.
Tate placed third at the state meet last year, and sports the same ranking on the 135-pound rankings, though he could finish the year at 140. Ferry (first), Trent Noon (fourth), Garrett Fortado (fifth), Brown (ninth), Juan Garza (12th), Tanner Feuerstein (19th), Ronnie Stevens (honorable mention), Dustin Harris (HM) and Jake Butler (HM-injured) are also noted on the state rankings.
Brown is ranked at 189, but bumped up to 215 last weekend to test his wits against a bracket that contained 12 state-ranked wrestlers. He went 5-0 across the tourney’s two days, and topped Jeff Vargas of South Hills in a 3-1 finale to win the weight.
Oakdale’s 112-pound Fortado placed second, and avenged a pair of 2010 losses to Ian Nickell of Bakersfield with a 2-0 overtime victory in the tourney semi-finals. Fortado ultimately surrendered a 5-2 loss to Jonas Gayton of Clovis in the bracket title match.
Ferry, Noon and Feuerstein all placed fourth, Noon coming dangerously close to the finals when he dropped a 2-1 thriller to state No. 1, Zach Nevills of Clovis. Feuerstein went 5-2 and beat a pair of top-12 state wrestlers en route to his medal.
Garza (seventh) and Harris (eighth) also placed, while Stevens finished top-12 after upending the No. 5 seed to reach the quarterfinals.
“We always go to that tournament because the top teams in it are so good,” coach Stevens said. “I thought we wrestled really well against some great competition.”
With this week’s Temecula Valley Tourney, the Tim Brown Invitational on Jan. 21 and postseason action kicking off in February, Oakdale still has plenty of big matches to look forward to.
The team is favored to win a section championship, and should easily surpass last year’s 13th place team finish at the CIF championships on March 4 and 5.
“A lot of these kids have grown up together in the youth system, and they help each other through the hard times — whether it’s not letting themselves off the hook or lightening the mood in some stressful situations,” coach Stevens said. “They really have high expectations for each other, and they expect to win every time they get on the mat.”