Battle for the Belt Preview

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Welcome to the 10th Annual Battle for the Belt hosted by Temecula Valley High School. With a mixture of some out-of-state competition along with teams returning after a 1-2 year hiatus, we are proud to say that this year’s competition is loaded with talented wrestlers and should be filled with exciting, action-packed matches from start to finish.

For those of you know fans at home, the entire competition will be run through Track Wrestling so people can view the dashboard and follow the brackets with live results. For an even better experience, Track Wrestling offers Trackcast. This feature allows subscribers to view every match in the tournament live and also allows for access after the event has concluded. To access this feature, click on the “Video Streams” within the BROWSE tool on the Track Wrestling homepage.

There are some new faces at this year’s Battle for the Belt (B4B). A couple of new out-of-state teams will provide some additional flavor that we’re always looking for. Palmer, Alaska has made the long journey from the chills of glacier country to the sunshine of southern California. Conversely, the warm rays of January are nothing new to Arizona team state champions Corona Del Sol, who travel to this year’s B4B from Tempe. Along with the new faces, there are some staples who enter this year’s event with stellar squads which could, for the first time in a few years, result in a very tight team race.

Teams who represent a viable threat for the team title include four-time defending B4B champion Poway, perennial Central Coast Section power Gilroy, an up-and-comer from the Sac Joaquin Section Oakdale, and Southern Section power St John Bosco.

Poway boasts five returning state medalists in a senior-laden lineup. Poway’s depth is legendary, and it always poses a challenge to other schools who hope to contend. Never was this more evident than this past December when Poway was able to edge out defending California state team champion and top-ranked Buchanan to win the prestigious Reno Tournament of Champions (RTOC) team title. That said, Gilroy, Oakdale, and St John Bosco all possess the firepower to make it very tough on Poway’s bid for a fifth consecutive B4B team title.

Gilroy enters the B4B with the highest state ranking at #3, just one spot ahead of Poway. On the strength of four returning state medalists who will need to do their part, it is Gilroy’s youth movement that could help balance the scales presented by Poway’s depth.

St John Bosco out of Bellflower, California boasts two top-ranked wrestlers in the state, including returning B4B and California state champion, Cleveland Belton. Belton was also recently crowned champion at the nationally-recognized Doc Buchanan Invitational (Doc B) this past weekend. They also have a freshman phenom in Isaac Salas who placed at the Walsh Ironman in December. Given that the Walsh Ironman is widely considered the toughest in-season tournament in the country, this is quite a feat. This team has a balance of proven performers along with underclassmen who are on the brink of breaking through to the elite level. If they can put it all together at the B4B this upcoming weekend, it may be first-year head coach Jeff Anderson strapping on the Coach’s Belt this Saturday night.

As always, we look forward to an incredible weekend of wrestling. What follows is a preview of each weight class that examines the competitors who could potentially appear at those weights. Of course, we can never predict which wrestlers will stay up at their current weight class and which will go down. We can never be sure who will be hit with the injury-bug. In reviewing these weight classes, however, one thing is undoubtedly clear: the wrestlers who show up to wrestle in Temecula’s gym on January 12-13 had better lace ‘em up and be ready to go because it’s going to be one heck of a competition.

WEIGHT-BY-WEIGHT PREVIEW

106 POUNDS – Strange as it may seem, the 106 pound division at the Battle for the Belt has historically been dominated by upperclassmen with only two freshmen ever winning the Title Belt at this weight class. St John Bosco’s freshman phenom Isaac Salas may represent a shift to that trend. With a fifth-place finish at the Walsh Ironman in December, Salas has already demonstrated his ability to win at the highest levels. Should Green Valley’s Steele Dias make the cut to 106, however, he could represent a viable challenge to Salas. Dias is a returning Nevada state champion and he was a finalist at this year’s RTOC at 113 pounds. Two other freshman standouts who hope to challenge for the Belt are Jayden Gomez of Gilroy and Alex Ramirez of Rowland. Also in contention for medals are Oakdale’s Brayden Abell and Poway’s Tharen Burns. Their ability to medal could have ultimately have an impact on the team race.

113 POUNDS – Three returning state medalists from California lead the way at 113 pounds. St John Bosco’s Antonio Lorenzo is already a two-time state placer, having finished third at last year’s state meet. He comes into this year’s B4B boasting a #1 ranking in the state as well as a #8 ranking nationally. Looking to keep Lorenzo off the top step of the podium is returning B4B champion and state placer Aaron Nagao of Esperanza. Posing a serious threat to both Lorenzo and Nagao is Poway’s Carson Sauriol. Sauriol is also a returning state placer, having placed fifth in the 113 pound division last season. Also, keep an eye on Easton Amuro of Calvary Chapel who recently made himself relevant in the discussion of the top tier 113 pounders with his sixth-place finish at the Doc B this past weekend. Others who will vie for medals include returning state qualifiers Dan Galvan of Rowland and Lorenzo Arreola of Dinuba, freshman Nathan Aguilar of Gilroy who was an RTOC place winner, and Zack Kvalve of Corona Del Sol who finished third in the state of Arizona last year.

120 POUNDS  The clear favorite at 120 pounds is Nico Aguilar of Gilroy. Already a two-time California state finalist, Aguilar comes into the B4B carrying a #1 state ranking along with a #4 ranking nationally. This field also includes a pair of returning California state medalists in Cole Reyes of Frontier and Jacob Allen of Poway. Not to be overlooked is St John Bosco’s Christian Nunez. Nunez is a returning B4B finalist and a two-time state qualifier out of the highly touted Southern Section. Hoping to test his skills against this abundance of California talent is returning Arizona state champion Cam Upshur of Corona Del Sol. A slew of returning California state qualifiers could also compete in this division. They include Nathan Kiddo of Ramona, Eric Santana of Palm Desert, Richard Rojo of Rowland, and Kobe Lepe of San Fernando. Throw in freshman standout Henry Porter of Oakdale, who has placed at the RTOC and the Doc B, and you’re looking at one of the deepest fields in this year’s tournament.

126 POUNDS  At last year’s B4B, Cleveland Belton started an incredible run that ultimately culminated with a California state title. Running roughshod through the competition at 120 pounds, Belton would claim Lower Weight Outstanding Wrestler honors. Since then, Belton has won a Southern Section Masters title, a California state title, and just recently, he was crowned with the much-coveted cowboy hat at the Doc B. This string of accomplishments makes St John Bosco’s Belton the obvious favorite at this weight class. That said, a rivalry that was sparked during last year’s postseason has the potential to renew itself this week. During that historic run, Belton squared off against Calvary Chapel’s Luciano Arroyo in two critical matches. First, Belton was able to prevent Arroyo from capturing a second consecutive Southern Section Masters title by defeating him in the finals of that event. A week later, Belton once again defeated Arroyo in the semifinals of the California State Championships. Belton would go on to win the crown while Arroyo would come back through the consolation bracket to place third. Though these two are the class of the field at 126 pounds, a plethora of returning California state qualifiers make this an extremely deep weight class. They include Chase Saldate of Gilroy, Cameron Santiago of Poway, Andrew Bloemhof of Bakersfield, Jacob Peralta of Vacaville, David Ritchie of ML King, Jared Callison of Monache, and Jose Landin of Frontier. Also in medal contention will be two-time state qualifier and defending San Diego Section champion Kenji Beato of Mt Carmel as well as Nevada state runner-up Daniel Rodriguez of Cimmaron-Memorial. As if that’s not enough competition, Esperanza’s Ethan Gould, Patriot’s Gabriel Villegas, and Walnut’s Collin Hayes all own key head-to-head victories over seedable opponents in the field.

132 POUNDS In yet another division that could see a finals matchup between the #1 and #2 ranked wrestlers in the state of California, returning California state champion Jesse Vasquez representing Santiago and three-time state medalist Chase Zollmann of Poway lead the way at 132 pounds. Just a sophomore, Vasquez is immensely talented and boasts a #4 national ranking having already placed at the Walsh Ironman twice in his career. Zollmann, who is also ranked nationally, boasts his own laundry list of credentials including two prior appearances in the B4B Finals, having taken home the Title Belt as a sophomore while falling in double overtime in last year’s final. While these two are the odds-on favorites for a Saturday night showdown, neither should overlook returning state placer Elijah Palacio of Edison or Bishop Amat’s Marcos Polanco who is coming off an impressive 4th place finish at the Doc B. Returning Southern Section Masters champion Aaron Diaz of Canyon Springs placed at last year’s B4B and should make noise again this year. To do so, however, he may have to avenge two losses he has suffered to freshman standout Cael Valencia of St John Bosco earlier in the season. Others who will contend for medals include Doc B placer Caleb Blasius of Sultana, Adidas National Champion Owen Manley of Palmer (Alaska), Nevada state third-place finisher Nathan Rodriguez of Cimmaron-Memorial, returning North Coast Section champion Dwayne Guerrero of De La Salle, two-time North Coast Section finalist and returning B4B placer Aaron Perez of James Logan, former state qualifier Dustin Chavez of Oakdale, and returning state qualifiers Victor Jacinto of Gilroy, Dan Vizcarra also of Gilroy, and Garrett Fletcher of Frontier.

138 POUNDS A mixture of seasoned veterans along with a group of talented underclassmen can make things very interesting in what is likely the most wide-open weight class in the tournament. Credentials include four returning state medalists, a current Doc B finalist, an Arizona state placer, a North Coast Section champ, a fab freshman, and bundle of returning state qualifiers. Returning state placer and Cadet national champion Dawson Shiavong of Bullard may have the slight edge. The same could be said of three-time state placer and former B4B champion Alex Felix of Gilroy, though he is coming off a sixth-place finish at the Doc B this past weekend. At that same tournament, sophomore Sonny Santiago of St John Bosco came out of the eleven seed to make the finals, ultimately finishing second. Santiago had an outstanding freshman season but was unable to compete at the state meet due to injury. Though Santiago has outstanding credentials, there are two wrestlers who could potentially be in this field that hold head-to-head victories over Santiago this season. They include freshman star Luka Wick of San Marino and returning state qualifier Anthony Loera of Yucaipa. Returning state medalist Ricky Torres of Oakdale is coming off a seventh-place finish at the Doc B and he possesses the skills to make a run for the Belt as well. The same could be said of returning North Coast Section champion Kyle Parco of De La Salle. Had Parco held seed at last year’s state meet, he would have medaled. Instead, he fell to Shiavong in the first round of that tournament. If he is to make a run for the Belt, he may well have to avenge that loss. Others looking to challenge at this weight include two-time state qualifier and returning B4B medalist Jeff Ramsthaler of Ramona, Arizona state third-place finisher Bryce Nickel of Corona Del Sol, two-time LA Section champ Eric Rocha of San Fernando, two-time state qualifier Ryan Morphis of Frontier, and the very experienced Jonathan Miranda of Poway.

145 POUNDS – With seven of the top ten ranked wrestlers in the state of California potentially competing in this division, the 145 pound weight class is among the deepest in this year’s competition. Based on prior performance at the Battle for the Belt, Lawrence Saenz of Vacaville would be the favorite to take home the Belt at 145 pounds. Saenz has enjoyed the sunny weather of southern California. In his sophomore campaign, Saenz placed third at the B4B and recorded a technical fall over the eventual California state champion that season. Last year, as a junior, Saenz took home the Belt at 138 pounds. Past performance at the B4B may point to Saenz as the favorite, but past performance at the California State Championships would point to Rancho Buena Vista’s Bernie Truax. Truax shocked the California wrestling community last March with an incredible run at the state meet where he would eventually place second. Both Saenz and Truax will have their hands full with the likes of two-time state placer Peyton Omania of De La Salle and returning state qualifier Jake Ryan of Oakdale. Ryan, who was unable to finish the state tournament in March, has proven that he is also a viable contender for the Belt, having already recorded a head-to-head victory over Omania this season. Another former state medalist who has had success at past B4B tournaments is Izzak Olejnik of Bakersfield. Defending Central Coast Section champion John Fox of Gilroy is coming off a sixth-place finish at the Doc B this past weekend at 152 pounds. Should he come down to 145 pounds, he too could contend for the Belt. Don’t rule out defending San Diego Section champion Josh Tolentino of Poway who was a finalist at the RTOC in December. Others who will contend for medals include returning Southern Section Masters finalist Isaiah Mora of Esperanza, three-time state qualifier Adrian Salgado of ML King, and returning state qualifier Armando Murillo of Rowland.

152 POUNDS  Though the 152 pound division could have the top four ranked wrestlers in the state of California along with a defending Arizona state champion, make no mistake about it: the clear favorite at this weight class is two-time returning state placer Joshua Kim of Santiago. Last year, Kim was a runner-up at both the B4B and the California state meet. In both instances, he fell to Poway’s Quentin Hovis who was ranked #1 nationally. In his senior campaign, Kim has placed at the Walsh Ironman and he is ranked in the top twenty nationally. Equally as impressive, next fall Kim will be Harvard-bound where he will wrestle for the Crimson. Perhaps the greatest threat to Kim is sophomore Aaron Gandara of Cibola (Arizona). Like Kim, Gandara has an impressive set of credentials that includes a runner-up finish the RTOC, a USA Wrestling Cadet Folkstyle national championship, and finals appearances in both Greco-Roman and freestyle at the Cadet Nationals in Fargo. Also hoping to challenge for an appearance in the finals are a pair of returning California state medalists including Troy Mantanona of Palm Desert and Dominic Mata of Poway. Arizona state champion and Fargo All-American Jacob Garcia Jacob Garcia of Corona Del Sol may also be in that conversation. Two other wrestlers from California who will look to contend are returning state qualifier Jared Williams of Edison and Gabe Deharo of Temescal Canyon who has recorded some impressive head-to-head victories this season. Others to watch include returning state qualifier and RTOC place winner Adrian Gonzalez of Bakersfield as well as returning state qualifier Xavier Silva of Steele Canyon.

160 Pounds
Another wide-open weight class at this year’s B4B is the 160-pound division. Perhaps the biggest frontrunner is two-time returning state qualifier Beau Bradley of Monache. Bradley was sixth at the Doc B this past weekend and he was a medalist at last year’s B4B. Returning state qualifier Gabe Martinez of Oakdale was fifth at this past weekend’s Doc B at 170 pounds. Should he make the drop to 160, he could challenge for the Belt. The same goes for two-time returning state qualifier Nathan Vargas of Sultana should he make the drop from 170. Returning state qualifier Daniel Long of Dinuba is always dangerous as is Green Valley’s Desmond Bowers who was fifth at the RTOC. Others to watch include two-time Alaska state placewinner Jason Watkins of Palmer, RTOC placewinner Calvin Naraghi of Poway, and returning state qualifiers Max Aguirre of Frontier and David Lipscomb of Steele Canyon. Because this weight class is so wide open, it could, more than any other division, have major implications on team race.

170 POUNDS – Former Nevada state champion Joey Mazzara of Bishop Gorman leads the way at 170 pounds. As a sophomore, Mazzura was the B4B champion and he parlayed that into a Nevada state championship at the end of the season. Last year, Mazzura once again found himself in the finals of the B4B, but this time he would fall to eventual California state champion Anthony Mantanona of Palm Desert. Perhaps the greatest threat to Mazzura’s bid for another Belt is returning state qualifier Trent Tracy of Frontier who was fourth at the Doc B this past weekend. Two-time state qualifier Mark Cardwell of Monache is also a serious contender, but he may have to avenge a head-to-head loss suffered at the hands of Tracy at the Doc B where Cardwell was seventh. Two wild cards at this weight are Oakdale’s Bronson Harmon and Palmer’s Levi Farris. Harmon was fourth in the state of California last year, but he has had limited action so far this season. He definitely has the skills to take home the Belt, but if he were to make an appearance this weekend, conditioning would likely be a factor. Since Alaska’s wrestling season is in the fall, conditioning is not likely to be a concern for Farris who is an Alaska state champion and former runner-up. If returning state placer and Central Coast Section champion Joseph Barnes of Gilroy can bounce back after a disappointing performance at the Doc B, it could have a major impact on the team race. LA Section champion Jonovan Smith put himself in the conversation by defeating Barnes last weekend, as did sophomore Nathan Haas of St John Bosco who was eighth at the Doc B. Returning state qualifier Jacob Mendoza of Poway will need to contend for a medal to help Poway’s chances of capturing a fifth consecutive team title.

182 POUNDS  Two wrestlers stand out above the rest at 182 pounds. Green Valley’s Garrett Niel was a Colorado state champion in 2016 and he followed that up with a third place finish at the Colorado state meet a season ago. At the B4B last year, Niel was fourth at a highly competitive 170 pound weight division. Poway’s Nathan Tausch is a returning California state placer and he finished third at last year’s B4B in the 182 pound division. Looking to challenge for a spot in the finals will be returning California state qualifier Guillermo Escobedo of Bishop Amat who is coming off an impressive third place finish at this past weekend’s Doc B. Defending Nevada state champion and double Fargo All-American Connor Bourne of Faith Lutheran could also contend, but he may have to reverse the outcome he had versus Escobedo at the Doc B where he would ultimately finish sixth. Be sure not to overlook two-time LA Section champion Carlos Gomez of Birmingham who was eighth at the Doc B. Others who could contend for medals include returning state qualifier Issaya Finley of Righetti and Cody Golding of Oakdale.

195 POUNDS – One wrestler looks to be the clear favorite at 195 pounds. Returning state finalist Colbey Harlan of Oakdale is arguably having the best season to date of any wrestler in the competition. Coming into the B4B, Harlan is undefeated with championship titles at the RTOC and Doc B. Being from cowboy country, all Harlan needs now is a giant Belt to complement the Stetson he took home this past weekend. Another returning California state finalist in his own right, Gilroy’s Antonio Andrade will hope to knock off Harlen and claim the Belt for himself. To do so, he will likely have to get through defending Nevada state champion and RTOC placewinner Joe Miller of McQueen. The field also includes a pair of returning state qualifiers out of the San Diego Section in Kalani Sorensen of San Marcos and Chris Dixson of La Costa Canyon. Also vying for medal contention are Leo Molina of Sultana, Damien Wake of Temecula Valley, Callum Bisbing of Canyon, Jeff Gallegos of Murrieta Mesa, and Daniel Park of Montclair.

220 POUNDS – Bellarmine Prep’s Victor Jaquez enters the competition as the leading contender at 220 pounds. Jaquez is currently ranked #1 in the state of California. Last year, he was third at the B4B and he would go on to place fifth at the California State Championships in March. In order to meet Jaquez in the finals, a pair of Southern Section veterans will need to first settle things between themselves. Santiago’s Brayden Ray is a two-time state qualifier and is coming off a title run at the Riverside County Championships this past weekend. St John Bosco’s David Aranda is a three-time state qualifier and is coming off an impressive third-place finish at the Doc B this past weekend. If Aranda can hold off Ray and make the finals, it may be just the boost Bosco would need to dethrone Poway in the team race. Close on Aranda’s heals is defending Central Coast Section champion Nicholas Villareal of Gilroy who was fourth at the Doc B this past weekend. A trio of two-time state qualifiers including Hamzah Al-Saudi of Pacific Palisades, Jose Reyes of San Fernando, and Isaiah Martin of Garces Memorial rounds out a very competitive field at 220 pounds.

285 POUNDS – Two-time California state placer Jake Levengood of Vacaville leads the way at heavies. Levengood is the defending B4B champion and he was a runner-up at the RTOC where he suffered his only loss of the season to Cohlton Schultz of Ponderosa, Colorado who is ranked second nationally. Levengood carries a national ranking of his own at #9. Looking to dethrone Levengood will be two-time Arizona state champion Tommy Mommer of Cibola. Mommer was fourth at the RTOC, though he and Levengood did not meet at that tournament. Two-time state qualifier Austin Gillham of Sultana, who was eighth at the Doc B, will also hope to challenge for a spot in the finals. While spots one through three appear to be a lock, the remaining spots on the podium are up for grabs. Wrestlers who could contend include Josh Tarango of Canyon, Andrew Johnson of Poway, Patrick Slatic of Bullard, Justin Woodall of Temecula Valley, Josiah Delgado of John Glenn, Diego Sanchez of Montclair, Angel Munoz of Great Oak, Grant Bryant of Frontier, Joseph Chacon of Birmingham, and Josh Avila of Rowland.