Ronnie Stevens did a lot of things on Sunday, but he had no idea that one of them was an homage to the 1946 Broadway musical, Annie Get Your Gun.
When speaking fondly of his sophomore brother Max, the Oakdale High senior made it clear that anything Max can do, he could do better — he can do anything better than Max.
The rivalry between the two brothers and sons of Oakdale wrestling coach Brian Stevens has driven both to an intense degree of competition, a big reason they will join four teammates on a trek to Bakersfield and the California Interscholastic Federation State Wrestling Championships this week.
The Stevens brothers, Nico Colunga, Trevor Williams, Zack Fallentine and Eric Barragan were top-seven in their weights at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships on Friday and Saturday in Stockton, leading Oakdale to a fourth-place finish and scheduled participation in one of the most anticipated prep events of the year.
Ronnie was runner-up at 122 pounds to nab Oakdale’s top medal. He said he was thrilled to see his younger brother land his first-ever ticket to state with a fifth place finish at 128, but as Max was likely reminded, fifth isn’t quite second.
“Wrestling, Call of Duty (first-person shooter video game)… I beat him at everything,” Ronnie said with a laugh. “I don’t think there is anything he can beat me at.”
Aside from video games, the prestige of that success only extends down the family tree for Ronnie. He will have to wait a while to tackle the top branch.
“I wrestle with my dad, but I can’t beat him,” Ronnie admitted. “I’ll probably beat him when I am in college and celebrate like crazy.”
An exuberant celebration would be a bit of shock for onlookers, considering Ronnie is known for a quiet and humble demeanor (unless he’s talking to Max) as he works towards his goals like a plow horse.
He dropped off the wrestling scene in 2011-12 when problems with a wrist forced a season-ending surgery, but erupted to high regard at the state level with a tremendous 2012 offseason and big victories throughout his senior campaign.
The wrestler ranked No. 9 in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter tested a Vacaville wrestler ranked seventh in the state during the SJS finals on Saturday, but ultimately fell in an 8-2 decision.
Ronnie may be a senior, but he’s still learning from experiences like that.
At state, Ronnie is in the same quarterfinal bracket as No. 1 ranked Mason Pangilly of Porterville, a two-time state medalist. Ronnie would have to beat Pangilly to ensure a top-six finish after only four matches, but he isn’t counting any losses just yet.
“I feel like if I wrestle with my technique I can beat anybody,” Ronnie said. “I trained a lot with (former state champion and Oakdale wrestler David Ferry), and he has really helped me improve.”
Colunga is ranked 12th in the state, and has the difficult draw of No. 3 ranked Matt Gamble from the stacked Central Section waiting in the second round. At Masters, Colunga won a pivotal match over 16th ranked Tristan Scott of Elk Grove to ensure his third-place finish, but was dropped to consolation when a late takedown gave 22nd ranked Isaac Blackburn of Del Oro a trip to the SJS finals at 108.
“I just had to not let the loss get me down,” Colunga (a sophomore) said. “I had to fight back to get third.”
Williams (freshman) was a surprise state qualifier at 115 after a loss to No. 2 state-ranked Israel Saavedra left him poised for an expected heartbreaker against returning state-qualifier Jason Valdovinos (senior) of Turlock in his first match of consolation.
Williams stunned the field with a 7-4 win over Valdovinos to stay alive and cruised to an 11-5 win over Carlos Alvarez of Folsom in the seventh-place match. He nabbed the last remaining state-qualification at his weight.
“I had it set in my mind to come here and use this tournament to get as far as I could,” Williams said afterwards. “I made up my mind that I was going to go to state.”
Like Williams, Max Stevens was also absent from the top-eight of the section rankings. He seemed in jeopardy of losing his shot at state after a second-round loss, but fought back with four straight wins in consolation to stay alive, He fell just 3-2 to the eventual third-place finisher (Cameron Bailey of Vacaville), and accepted a forfeit for fifth. It was a big improvement from his 1-2 effort at Masters a year ago (he lost to two state qualifiers).
“Honestly I was a little embarrassed by my performance at Masters last year,” Max said. “I wanted to go to state so bad.
“To go with my dad and brother is just really cool.”
Oakdale had a couple of bracket-busters in the upper weights with 222-pound Zack Fallentine and 285-pound Eric Barragan. Fallentine took out Vacaville’s Zach Crane in the quarterfinals to ensure top-six, then edged Noah Shelgren of Calaveras 2-1 to reach the bronze medal match. He ultimately finished fourth after a 3-1 loss to Turlock’s Ricardo Garcia, but landed his first ever trip to state just two years after making his varsity debut.
“This is far and away the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me,” Fallentine said. “I just kept working hard and I made it happen.”
Barragan carried a similar story after his short career in a heavyweight division where he was grossly undersized. He was topped 9-1 in the quarterfinals by the eventual tourney champion (Jaharee Taylor of Elk Grove), but battled back to beat Del Oro’s Saul Meneses 7-4 to steal the seventh and final state ticket.
“That was a little revenge for football,” Barragan said, referring to his section-title loss to Del Oro as a junior.
The 2012-13 wrestling season represents the final official appearance of coach Brian Stevens, who will relinquish duties to assistant Steve Strange in the offseason.
Stevens picked a year in which both his sons qualified for the state meet and Oakdale rallied to section banners at both the SJS team dual championships and SJS Division IV Individual Championships.
Stevens said he was thrilled to see his sons move on, but was heartbroken that seniors Tyler Malone, Jake Jacobson, Tyler Noon (broken hand) and Hondo Arpoika did not move on to state.
“This weekend was great from a family point of view, but we coaches always feel such a conflict of feeling, seeing many of the kids we coached for years get eliminated and completing their career as Oakdale wrestlers,” Stevens said. “I was hoping to do better as a team at Masters, but (Noon) wasn’t able to compete, and he would have scored us a lot of points.”
The state meet begins on Friday at the Rabobank Arena and concludes on Saturday. Bracket information is available at www.cifstate.org.