LOS ANGELES – With Rancho Bernardo bringing a partial team to the 55th Annual Hamada Invitational, it will be challenging for them to repeat as team champions. Nevertheless, there will be other squads ready to win a team title. A team with multiple state placers and champions that could walk away on Saturday night with a team trophy is Green Valley High out of Henderson, Nevada. They are the favorites this season to claim a Nevada 4A state championship. Other teams who will be in the hunt include Brawley, host La Costa Canyon, Servite, and Santa Ana.
There’re four grapplers with outstanding resumes looking to repeat as champions. These wrestlers are Ethan Gould (Esperanza), Marcos Polanco (Bishop Amat), Jayden Smith (Brawley), and Connor Bourne of Faith Lutheran, Nevada.
With this being said, the following is a preview of each weight class and the contenders on it. However, let’s keep in mind that many may compete in a lower or higher weight class than what the preview says.
As it always is with the 106-pound weight class, many competitors are incoming freshmen that are more than capable of making a name for themselves. Nevertheless, there’re three wrestlers with post-season experienced under their belts ready to win a Hamada Invitational title. Leading the way is Seth Myers of Yorba Linda who was third at this event last year in this weight class. A difficult wrestler to score on, Myers was injured during the postseason and couldn’t compete at league finals. Hometown favorite Diego Aguilar of La Costa Canyon was fifth here but did not get the opportunity to wrestle Myers in the tournament. He will be expected to rack some points to help the team win the team title. Anthony Maldonado of Brawley competed in this event last year as the “B” wrestler where he finished top 12. Nevertheless, he got the green light to represent Brawley at master’s where he wound up with a 3-2 record.
This weight class seems to belong to southern section state qualifier Andrew Silva of Servite High. A quick and technical wrestler, Silva was victorious last weekend on dominating the competition at the Cossarek tournament. Right behind him should be Colorado state qualifier Andrew Chilton of Cherokee Trail. Chilton competed in this tournament last year and finished in seventh place in the 106-weight class. Keep an eye on central section masters meet qualifier Jovonni Eng of Clovis East. Anytime one gets to compete against a central section guy; one must be ready to scramble as they come to wrestle. Two grapplers that will attempt to climb the podium after placing in this event include Daniel Moreno of Brawley and Naythan Galbiso of Imperial. Both athletes earned medals in the 106-pound weight class; Moreno was sixth while Galbiso eighth. Other wrestlers that have the potential to surprise some people include southern section masters meet qualifiers Jonathan Salas of Brea Olinda and Mario Ariza of Norte Vista.
Two Nevada state medalists and three California state qualifiers are scheduled to participate in this weight class. A wrestler that is head-and-shoulders above the competition is Steele Dias of Green Valley, Nevada. Dias was the runner-up in this event last year at 113-pounds. Aside from being a two-time state champion in the biggest division in Nevada; Dias is a multiple time Fargo All-American in both divisions. Gavin Concepcion was the runner-up in this tournament last year at 106. He is a returning state qualifier but will have a hard time simulating the same feat up two weight classes. Curtis Brown returns to the tournament with high hopes of placing after finishing a match shy. He was triumphant in placing third at the Nevada state tournament at 106. Kavika Aholelei was fourth at the southern section masters meets and punch his ticket to the CIF state tournament last year. He met Andrew Silva, the favorite at 113-pounds in this event, at the Orange County All-Star Dual, and was able to win a close match. He should be a wrestler people should keep an eye in this event. A freshman to look forward is Marcus Medina of Servite. Unseeded at the Cosarrek tournament last weekend, Medina was successful in advancing to the finals and placing second. Other wrestlers ready to rumble and advanced to the podium include state qualifier Michael Aguirre of Oceanside, and Hamada Invitational place winners Eli Dalangin of San Marcos and Mathias Weckx of Laguna Hills.
The 126-weight class should be a two-person battle between William Zernich of Green Valley and Ethan Gould of Esperanza. Zernich is part of the great wrestlers from Green Valley, Nevada. He is up a weight class after having won the Division 4A state tournament last year. Gould is a state qualifier and was dominant last year in winning this event via a 12-2 major decision over his opponent from Santa Ana. He looked great last weekend slating the competition at the Rumble for the Rig tournament at Bakersfield High. Jose Mata (Santa Ana) is a southern section master meet qualifier and was fifth in this event at 120. He’s a gifted athlete ready to become the second state champion for the Santa Ana wrestling program. John Gonzales of Great Oak is back on the mats after being out the entire season due to an injury last year. He is also a southern section master meet qualifier. Other wrestlers who will be in the hunt of an individual title include San Diego masters meet qualifiers Kevin Sanchez (Fallbrook) and Anthony Ching (Mater Dei Catholic). Keep an eye on Marcos Magana (Servite) who could be the bracket buster of this weight class.
The clear-cut-favorite at this weight class is 2018 CIF state finalist Aaron Nagao of Esperanza. Up a few weight classes from 120, he looked exceptional as he dominated the field at the Rumble for the Rig tournament in Bakersfield. A wrestler ready to make some noise of his own is Josh Medina of Servite. Medina had a great season last year that saw him placed second at the Sierra Nevada and Five Counties tournaments. However, injuries have derailed his post-season accomplishments and have yet to advance to the big dance. Chaz Hallmark of Scripps Ranch had a great pre-season and placed at various tough events. He was fifth at the San Diego masters meet and seventh in this tournament at 120. Other wrestlers ready to compete and climb on the podium include Nevada state qualifiers Gabriel Rodriguez (Faith Lutheran), David Kalayanaprapruit (Green Valley), and Micah Levine (Mt. Carmel) who was a San Diego masters meet qualifier and eighth in this event at 126.
Just like the 126-weight class. The 138-bracket should be a two-person battle between former teammates in Marcos Polanco of Bishop Amat and Teddy Okada of Servite. Polanco, who started his career for the Friars, was fourth at the CIF state tournament and he is a returning champion of this event. He has signed with the University of Minnesota and will be taking his talent to Minneapolis next fall. Okada is junior for the Friars who was expected to place at the state tournament before an injury forced him to forfeit the rest of his season. He is a two-time Fargo Greco-Roman All-American that could get the fall if one ties up with him. A trio of state qualifiers ready to stop the matchup from occurring includes Josh Cruz (Raymond S. Kellis, Arizona), David Rivera (Cherokee Trail, Colorado), and Steven Kroesen (Laguna Hills) who was sixth in this event at 132. Elijah Holiday (Esperanza) is the nephew of former three-time national qualifier for the Golden Gophers, Josh Holiday. Elijah was triumphant in advancing to the southern section masters meet tournament and was third at the Rumble for the Rig tournament last weekend in Bakersfield. Other wrestlers ready to compete and climb on the podium include masters meet qualifier Christian Navida (San Marcos) who was fifth in this event last year at 132; two-time southern section masters meet qualifier T.J. Beringer (Vista Murrieta) and Ezra Cardenas (Steele Canyon) who made it to the quarterfinals of the San Diego masters.
This is one of the most wide-open weight classes in the tournament with several wrestlers entered with a legitimate chance at winning! The leader of the pack should be Samson Enos (Slam Academy). Enos returns after having placed third at this event in this weight. Anthony Garcia (Raymond S. Kellis) and Hayden Moore (Boulder City) were state qualifiers respectively in the states of Arizona and Nevada. Daniel Magana (Servite) is another grappler that could win a Hamada Invitational this weekend. He is quick and agile and hungry to showcase his talent to the crowd. Paul Ortiz (Imperial) was fifth at the San Diego Section and just missed advancing to the state tournament by a match. Keep an eye on Alex Hendrix of La Costa Canyon who will be hard to defeat with his great defense.
There are a few guys in contention here, but we have to consider Ladd Cox (Boulder City) the favorite at 152. He was a Nevada state runner-up in Division 3A. He has looked strong and ready to challenge for a state title this year. Nevertheless, don’t count out Juan Lopez (Bishop Amat) who was a state qualifier out of the tough Southern Section. He is back hoping to win this event for the first time after placing fifth last year. Look out for Nevada state place winner Jeremy Hoffman (Green Valley) who has been wrestling quite well as of late. He looked great at the Green Valley Duals where he finished undefeated. We can’t count out Buck Valor of Servite who is still undefeated after winning the Cossarek tournament with style. A few others who will contend for a medal here are San Diego masters place winners Aidan Baker (La Costa Canyon), Nathan Hart (Imperial), and Kymani Yambao (San Marcos). All three are returning Hamada Invitational place winners.
160 is another weight where several wrestlers will be in contention for the title. Nevertheless, let’s begin with a possible matchup between two out-of-state grapplers in Tommy McCormick of Churchill County and Justus Scott of Green Valley. Both are Nevada state champions in their respective divisions. A wrestler that will play the part of the spoiler is Jayden Smith (Brawley). He was a state qualifier last season, and he is the returning Hamada Invitational Champion. Ben Houri of La Costa Canyon is still undefeated on the season and looked great at Carter Classic as he dominated the competition with ease. He was sixth at this event last year and will look to climb a few spots on the podium. Let’s not sleep on state qualifiers Jimmy Dunagan (Boulder City), Abel Ambriz (Cherokee Trail), Carson Cook (Faith Lutheran), and Zach Zidarevich (Rancho Bernardo) as they have the potential to do some damage in the tournament.
The 170-pound weight class is by far the deepest in the tournament with three state champions and three additional state qualifiers in their respective states. Sean McCormick (Churchill County) should be the odds-on favorite to try and captured his first Hamada Invitational tournament. He is a three-time state champion that will be looking forward to his fourth Division 3A state championship. Desmond Bowers of Green Valley is the Nevada Division 4A state champion. Bowers is feeling confident that he can have a great weekend and take out McCormick in the finals. McCormick and Bowers will not go untested though, and one of the wrestlers looking to pick both off is Ty Ryan of Raymond S. Kellis High. Ryan was successful last year in placing second at the Arizona state tournament. McCormick, Bowers, and Ryan may also receive a test from David Lipscomb (Steele Canyon) who was a state qualifier as he placed second at the San Diego Section. Raqueal Wagstaff (Vista Murrieta) is as dangerous as they come and don’t look past Josh Kopmeyer (Helix) who was a state qualifier. We should also keep an eye on the following wrestlers as they placed at the San Diego Section tournament. These wrestlers are Cameron Horton (El Capitan), Alex Florey (Rancho Bernardo), and Pierre Thomas (Torrey Pines).
Up four weight classes after placing second at 145-pounds in this event, Joe Curtis of host La Costa Canyon should be the favorite. A state qualifier, Curtis is undefeated on the season and one of the top grapplers for the Mavericks. He and fellow southern section masters meet qualifier Conner Le of Laguna Hills met in the finals of the Carter Invitational two weeks ago with Curtis earning the 10-0 win. Le is by no means a lesser wrestler than Curtis. Le could be punching his ticket to the big dance this season. Right behind Curtis and Le and should be Thorston Balmer of Boulder City, Nevada. Balmer is a state qualifier and was a match away from placing at the state tournament. Keep an eye on Max Ko of Yorba Linda who was a southern section master meet qualifier.
Returning champion Connor Bourne of Faith Lutheran, Nevada, will look to repeat in a weight class with many talents. He is a two-time Nevada state champion, A Fargo Cadet All-American, and was sixth at the always tough Doc Buchanan tournament. He is considered by many of his peers as the top upper weight’s wrestler in the state of Nevada. A wrestler that should never be counted out is Guillermo Escobedo of Bishop Amat. Only a junior, Escobedo was successful in placing sixth at the state tournament. If Bourne and Escobedo met up in the finals, fans should expect a barn burner of a match. A wrestler who is undefeated on the season and looked great at winning a Cossarek tournament title is Tristen Wilson of Servite. The Friar senior will try and stop the match between Bourne and Escobedo occurring this weekend. Shane Hansen of Oceanside will look to climb a few more spots on the podium after placing fifth last year in this weight class. He is a state qualifier as he finished third at the San Diego masters meet tournament. Keep an eye on Sergio Serrano of Imperial as he could be the bracket buster of this event.
The leader of the pack in this weight class seems to be Ryan Vanario of Boulder City High. Only a junior, Vanario placed second at the Division 3A state tournament in Nevada, and he’s the highest returning place winner of this event at this weight class as he was fifth. Nathan Miller of Vista High was a match shy from punching his ticket to the state tournament last season in the San Diego Section. He participated in this event last year but had to default out of it as he got injured during the early rounds. Noah Enriquez of Raymond S. Kellis will also be in the mix to win an individual tournament title as he was an Arizona state qualifier.
Ben Dooley of Churchill County and his teammates will be competing in the Hamada Invitational for the first time in their scholastic careers. Dooley is an experienced grappler that was successful last season in claiming a state title in the biggest division of the Nevada state tournament. Two outstanding wrestlers should challenge him from California in Jonah Schmidtke of Clovis East and Jeffrey Castro of Central Union. Schmidtke was a state qualifier last year for the Timberwolves out of the rugged central section. He’s big and strong and usually outmuscles the opposition with his strength. Castro was a match shy from placing at the San Diego Masters Meet. This year, he should be one of the favorites to qualify to the state tournament.