A year ago, Palm Desert wrestling star Anthony Mantanona was the top-seeded wrestler in the state meet at 170 pounds, but he was far from an overwhelming favorite, having barely knocked off the state’s previous No. 1 the week before.
But this weekend, Mantanona (42-0) enters as the wrestler to beat.
The No. 2-ranked 170-pound wrestler in the state, Northview junior Steven Comstock, was bumped down to the No. 5 seed after having to injury default in the third-place Masters meet match and could still be injured, according to Palm Desert coach Tom Lee. Mantanona pinned him in 51 seconds in the semifinals of the state meet a year ago.
Mantanona, an Oklahoma-commit, handily beat the No. 5 and No. 6 ranked wrestlers in the state last weekend in his semifinal and finals matches. Only Mantanona, Comstock and Oakdale senior Abel Garcia, this weekend’s No. 3 seed who missed last year’s state meet, have ever placed in the top eight at the state level.
It’s safe to say the competition against Mantanona has taken a dip, while last year’s state championship loss to future Sooner teammate Jeremy Thomas has driven the Aztec up to a new level in preparation for this weekend’s state finale at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
“He’s prepared for whatever comes his way,” Lee said. “It’s difficult to maintain that championship level when you’re not wrestling guys on that same level every week, but he trains for the best guys around. A lot of people make the mistake thinking they can tire him out, but it doesn’t work.”
READ MORE: Aztecs qualify four for state wrestling meet
The Palm Desert senior is gunning to become just the second local wrestler in the history of the state meet to bring home a title since Coachella Valley’s Al Castro won the 105-pound title in 1982. During his high school career, he gathered four DVL titles, four CIF SS divisional titles, two Masters meet titles and two top-four finishes in the state meet.
Lee said that last year, despite Mantanona’s two years of prior state meet experience, even he got a little caught up in the bright lights of the biggest stage. His coach doesn’t think there’s a chance the senior will make the same mistake again.
“He’s finally seen it all, and he’s just raised his level so high that no one can touch him,” Lee said.
Joining Mantanona at the state meet are three of his Aztec teammates, including a fellow state meet qualifier from a year ago. Senior Gabe Herrera went 3-2 a year ago in the 285-pound division and comes into this year’s meet ranked No. 12 in his weight class by the website The California Wrestler
Junior Eric Santana will make his first state meet appearance in the 113-pound division after finishing fourth at the Masters meet last weekend, as will sophomore Troy Mantanona, who took third place last weekend at 145 pounds and holds the No. 10 seed in the state meet bracket.
CIF Boys Wrestling State Championship
When: March 3-4
Where: Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield
Who: Four Palm Desert wrestlers (Eric Santana-113 pounds, Troy Mantanona-145 pounds, Anthony Mantanona-170 pounds, Gabe Herrera-285 pounds)
Tickets: $11 for adults and $8 for students and seniors on Friday; $12/$9 for the Saturday morning and afternoon session; $13/$10 for the Saturday evening session
To watch: The meet will be streamed live via SpectrumSportsNet at http://www.myspectrumsports.com