Editors Note: In the long history of the CIF State Wrestling Championships only two teams from the North Coast Section have ever won the coveted team title, the 1977 Clayton Valley team and the 1988 Antioch High team. This article is Part 1 of a two-part series highlighting the history of these two legendary programs.
BOUNDED BY TRADITION
If you talk to anyone who’s followed high school wrestling throughout the years and you ask them about Antioch Wrestling, the first thing that usually pops up is the 1988 State Championship team and names like Anthony “Macho” Camacho and Jason Verduzco or even names like Kraig Walker, Fred Hunziker, Pat Sweeney, Casey Rhyan, Billy Pillon, and Hall of Fame coach Steve Sanchez. Rightfully so, most of these guys were part of that 1988 State Championship team that really put Antioch Wrestling on the map, both in California and across the nation. But what about guys like Herb Miles, ever heard of him? Or what about the “Little Blacksmith” Bob Koupeny or even Rick Valdez, Pat Zech, or Ken Maghoyup, anyone familiar with these guys? How about the guys on the 1984 Antioch squad that became the first team in Antioch history to win an NCS title in ANY sport, can you name them? These guys began the tradition at Antioch and paved the path for future wrestlers to follow. If you’re interested, come along and we’ll take a closer look at these Antioch legends and even get you reacquainted with some of the more recent Antioch wrestlers that have etched their names into Antioch lore.
The Northern California Invitational (aka, NorCal) was one of the pre-cursors to the CIF State tournament. The tournament began in 1951 and ran until 1972 and at one time over 300 teams were competing in it. In 1952 a little 127-pound Antioch kid by the name of Al Marini placed 2nd in the tournament, thus becoming the first Antioch wrestler to place at a “State” tournament. Marini is the first Antioch Wrestler of record that I could find during my research.
The North Coast Section (NCS) tournament began in 1958 and the first wrestler to ever place from Antioch was 168-pound Herb Miles who finished in 4th in 1963. The following season (1964) Herb became the first Antioch wrestler to reach the finals of the NCS tournament. Herb, who is the father of former Major League Baseball player Aaron Miles, settled for 2nd place in 1964. Fast forward to 1967 and you’ll discover the first real superstar that Antioch Wrestling ever had, Bob “Little Blacksmith” Koupeny. Koupeny, whose nickname was given to him by a local sportswriter because of his “strong armed moves that hammered his opponents into submission” was a 3x NCS finalist (1965, ‘66’, ’67) and 2X Champion (1966, ’67). He also went on to place 3rd at the very tough Northern California Invitational. Bobs teammate on those squads was none other than California Hall of Fame recipient and future Antioch coach, Steve Sanchez. Sanchez was a 2x NCS finalist, finishing 2nd in both 1966 and ’67 and placing a very strong 3rd at the 1967 Northern California Invitational. Behind the coaching of Gerald Palmer, himself a standout wrestler who pioneered the art of leg wrestling in our area, both Koupeny and Sanchez helped lead the 1967 Antioch Panthers to a seventh-place finish at the NorCal Invitational, the schools’ best performance ever.
In the early 1970s, two wrestlers from Antioch went on to finish as NCS Champions. They were Rick Valdez and Pat Zech. Valdez earned his championship at 98 pounds in 1970 and went on to place at the NorCal Invitational, earning 3rd place honors in that same season. Zech was a 2x NCS finalist, winning it all in 1973 at HWT and then suffering a heartbreaking overtime loss in the NCS finals to Dave Shaw of San Leandro in 1974.
Around 1976 an important thing happened that would lay the foundation for the dramatic success that would follow in the 1980s, Antioch coaches Joe Felix, Richard Pineda, Jerry Lucero, Martin Lopez and Jerry Hernandez formed what would eventually become known as the Golden State Wrestling club. Talk with any former wrestler from this era and they’ll immediately point to this club as being vital to their success as a program. Another vital ingredient to their success was the return of Steve Sanchez to Antioch. In 1981 Sanchez returned home to Antioch and began coaching in the Golden State Wrestling Club and took over as head coach of his Alma Mater, Antioch High School. Sanchez, who coached Merced High School from 1971 to 1980 would eventually go on to become the only coach in California history to lead two different schools to State titles (Merced 1980 and Antioch 1988).
With the help of the Golden State Wrestling Club and their coaching staff, which by now included the likes of coaches Richard Camacho, Anthony Verduzco, Rich Madrigal and Bill Costa, Antioch began pumping out star wrestlers like Ken Maghoyup, the 1982 NCS Champion at 105 lb. In 1983 Kraig Walker, better known as “The Mauler” because of his strength and the fact that he “toyed with his opponents rather than pin them”, became the first Panther in school history to place at the prestigious CIF State Wrestling Championships, earning 4th place at 149 lb.
The following season in 1984, Antioch won the North Coast Section team title behind the performance of their star wrestler Fred Hunziker, who won the first of his two NCS titles that season and even took home a 5th place medal in an extremely tough weight group at the CIF State Tournament. That ’84 Championship team also included four other individuals who brought home NCS medals. They were Jose Perez (2nd 98 lb.), Chris Collins (3rd 112 lb.), John Parsons (3rd 165 lb.) and Chris Stubberfield (3rd 191 lb.). The following season (1985) Hunziker repeated as NCS Champion and became the first Antioch wrestler ever to win a California State Championship, competing in the always-competitive 132-pound weight group.
In 1986, the legend of Jason Verduzco and Anthony “Macho” Camacho was born. These two wrestlers, both sophomores, won NCS titles that season becoming the first duo to win NCS titles in the same season in school history. Jason would go on to place 2nd in the State tournament that season losing in the finals to California legend Mark Gerardi from Valhalla High School. The following season, both wrestlers again won Section titles with Camacho going on to place 3rd at the CIF State Championships and Verduzco again placing 2nd in the state behind Gerardi in what many wrestling historians consider to be the best state championship finals match in the history of the CIF State Championships.
Then came 1988! Thirty years ago, this weekend, Antioch pulled off the impossible and won the team title at CIF State Championships. The week prior to the State Championships both Camacho and Verduzco easily won their third NCS titles in a row, becoming the first and only wrestlers in school history to win three section titles (this is even more impressive considering Antioch was a 10th through 12th grade school only). Antioch also won the NCS team title that season behind several standout performances including Sean Ponce who won the NCS title at HWT. The other NCS medalist that season were Billy Pillon (101 lb.), Pat Sweeney (135 lb.), Casey Rhyan (148 lb.), David Garibay (157 lb.), and Ron Bidgood (220 lb.).
The State tournament was held at UOP Stockton that season and the Panthers would go on to place a school record of four wrestlers onto the medal stand; Verduzco, Sweeney, Rhyan and Pillon. Antioch scored 89.5 points and outdistanced runner-up Capistrano Valley, the Southern Section Champions. Verduzco led the way and finally got the finals monkey off his back by defeating Southern Section Champion Polo Ornelas of Alhambra by pin-fall midway through the second period. I was there when Verduzco flattened Ornelas’s shoulder blades to the mat and I can tell you it was dramatic, the Stockton Arena went crazy, and it was the definitive exclamation point on his career and the team title chase. Earlier in the day though, three Antioch wrestlers were battling back through the consolation brackets and this is where the team title was really won. 132 pounder Pat Sweeney battled back for third place and along the way knocked off the #1 and #2 ranked wrestlers in the state. Casey Rhyan wrestled a grueling 7 matches and finished the tournament with a record of 6 and 1, good enough for a third-place medal. Billy Pillon rounded out this incredible tournament by placing 5th at 101 lbs.
The following season would be Coach Sanchez’s last and he would eventually go on to be inducted into the California Wrestling Hall-of-Fame in 2000. The head coaching duties would be handed over to his assistant Frank Orlando. Under Orlando’s leadership, the Panthers would have continued success and even place 3rd at the 1990 NCS Championships. The following year, in route to winning the league title, Antioch placed all 13 wrestlers in the league finals. During these two seasons Antioch was led by standout wrestler Ryan Walker, who won two NCS titles in 1990 (154 lb.) and 1991 (171 lb.). Walker would cap his senior season off by placing 4th at the State Tournament.
Entering the new millennium, Antioch would again achieve new success under the tutelage of their new head coach and Iowa transplant Dan Lovell. In 2004, under the leadership of Lovell, a new star would emerge in 140-pound Nathan Bingham. Bingham won the Section title that year and went on to place 4th at the State Tournament, cementing his name in the Antioch records books. The following season in 2005, Antioch would strike gold again as Lovell led them to a North Coast Section team title. The team also won the NCS duals a few weeks prior thus becoming the only team in Antioch History to win the NCS Dual Meet Title and the NCS title. That team was anchored be CIF State placer Dominic Mutulo (4th 145 lb.) and 112 NCS Champion Ben McCorriston. The other medalist on that historic team included Johnny Unpingco (7th 119 lb.), Sergio Fragoso (4th 125 lb.), Derric Mutulo (7th 130 lb.), and Mike Nichols (3rd 152 lb.).
As the second decade of the new millennium began the next set of Antioch stars were born in Anthony ‘AJ” Cress and Kyle Clark. Cress capped his senior season in 2010 by winning a North Coast Section title at 152 pounds. In 2012 Clark won the NCS title at 220 pounds and then went on to place 3rd at the CIF State Tournament. Clark stands as the last wrestler from Antioch to place at the incredibly tough CIF State Tournament, joining an elite club that only includes 11 guys in the 60 plus year history of Antioch Wrestling.
That brings us to the year 2018 with the current squad. Led by first year head coach and former Antioch standout wrestler Jesse Unpingco, he is no stranger to success. His senior year at Antioch, he was a section medalist and an integral part of the 2005 Championship team. It’s worth noting that Jesse comes from a long lineage of family members that wrestled for Antioch that includes brothers Frank and Johnny and sisters Monica and Rosemarie. Rosemarie is a 4x National Freestyle Champion and a member of the Golden State women’s team that won the Women’s National Championship in 1995. Jesse, knowing that it takes an army to run a successful program, has brought on a great coaching staff which includes alumni AJ Cress, a 2018 JC State Champion and All-American from Chabot College, 2X CIF State medalist and 2x Fargo All-American Jesse Baldazo along with Eric Murdoch, John Marshall, and Cal-Poly alumni Xavier Johnson. The 2018 panther team is led by senior League Champions Ben Elias (132 lb.) and Garrett Francis (152 lb.) along with junior Jerimiah Mathews, who also won a league title this season at 182 pounds. Adding to their league titles, Elias and Mathews just won medals this past weekend at the always rugged North Coast Section Championships, with Elias finishing 7th and Mathews placing 8th.
And so you there you have it, over 60 years of Antioch wrestling history. From Marini to the “Little Blacksmith” to the “Mauler” to the “Macho” man, Verduzco, Sanchez and the Golden State Wrestling Club and now the Unpingco era, that’s over 60’s years of Antioch wrestling in a nutshell. My only regret is that I couldn’t honor every one of the fine wrestlers that came through this legendary program; Past NCS placers and League champions, their names still talked about today. Guys like Jay Hernandez who was part of that legendary ’88 team, he was every bit as good as those other ’88 standouts, but he got his post season dreams shattered do to constant shoulder injuries. Or even other guys like Antioch Sports Hall of Fame inductees Bill Dupree (class of ’79) and Shannon Felix (class of ’82) or the entire 1986 team that placed 2nd at NCS. There’s just too many greats to mention, the list is long and filled with many interesting and inspiring stories. One thing I am certain of, the Antioch wrestling program is bounded by a long and strong history and will continue to thrive in the years to come. I wish you the best!
CIF STATE MEDALISTS SINCE 1973
220 – Kyle Clark – 3rd Place (2012)
145 – Dominic Mutulo – 4th Place (2005)
140 – Nathan Bingham – 7th (2004)
171 – Ryan Walker – 4th Place (1991)
98 – Billy Pillon – 5th Place (1988)
132 – Pat Sweeney – 3rd Place (1988)
145 – Casey Rhyan – 3rd Place (1988)
165 – Jason Verduzco – STATE CHAMPION (1988)
132 – Anthony Camacho – 3rd Place (1987)
154 – Jason Verduzco – 2nd Place (1987)
145 – Jason Verduzco – 2nd Place (1986)
132 – Fred Hunzinker – STATE CHAMPION (1985)
126 – Fred Hunzinker – 5th Place (1984)
149 – Kraig Walker – 4th Place (1983)
CIF NORTH COAST SECTION CHAMPIONS
220 – Kyle Clark (2012)
152 – Anthony “AJ” Cress (2010)
112 – Ben McCorriston (2005)
140 – Nathan Bingham (2004)
171 – Ryan Walker (1991)
154 – Ryan Walker (1990)
141 – Anthony Camacho (1988)
135 – Anthony Camacho (1987)
129 – Anthony Camacho (1986)
168 – Jason Verduzco (1988)
157 – Jason Verduzco (1987)
148 – Jason Verduzco (1986)
HWT – Sean Ponce (1988)
135 – Fred Hunziker (1985)
129 – Fred Hunziker (1984)
105 – Ken Maghoyup (1982)
HWT – Pat Zech (1973)
98 – Rich Valdez (1970
115 – Bob Koupeny (1967)
106 – Bob Koupeny (1966)
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INVITATIONAL MEDALIST
98 – Rich Valdez – 3rd Place (1970)
112 – Bob Koupeny – 3rd Place (1967)
154 – Steve Sanchez – 3rd Place (1967)
127 – Al Marini – 2nd Place (1952)
NCS TEAM CHAMPIONS
1984 – 1988 – 2005
A LOOK BACK IN TIME