The future looks mighty bright for the Mission Oak wrestling program.
Both David Campbell and Jaden Enriquez earned fourth place medals at the CIF State Wrestling Championships Saturday at Rabobank Arena. They are the first state medalists in Mission Oak history and the 15th and 16th state medalists from the city of Tulare.
Even better news for the Hawks is that both are underclassmen. Campbell is a sophomore transfer from Lemoore and Enriquez is a freshman. Together they figure to anchor a program that soared to new heights with four total state qualifiers, a sixth place finish in Valley and a third place finish in league. Mission Oak coach John Navarro felt two more Hawks — Robert Alvarado and Danny Alvarado — could have medaled as well if not for injuries, and he expects to bring an even bigger flock back to Bakersfield next year.
Enriquez lost his first match of the tournament Friday but won six consecutive matches to advance to the consolation final. That kind of run hints that a state championship could be in his future; he certainly has the talent to join the exclusive club of four-time state medalists — a list that included only 29 names before the weekend.
“I didn’t expect to lose the first one so I was just in shock,” Enriquez said. “I didn’t know what happened. It was a good challenge. It was a good challenge because now I know for next year that I need to stay humble and stay relaxed and just go out there and wrestle.”
When asked what a pair of fourth place medals for the Mission Oak underclassmen says about the future for Hawk wrestling, Enriquez not only predicted a state title for himself but one for Campbell as well.
“I believe that’s going to be two state champions without a doubt, hands down,” Enriquez said. “Fourth place means that next year after all the seniors are gone it will be my turn to be on top of the podium. I just thank God for it.”
Enriquez clinched his spot in the medal rounds with a 9-2 victory over Josh Lazaro from Folsom before beating Amador Valley’s Tommy Yozzo 6-4 with a takedown in the final 10 seconds. He again won a late scramble for a 4-2 victory over Selma’s Ruben Garcia to book his spot in the third place match where he lost 3-2 to Isaiah Hokit from Clovis on a third period escape.
Campbell was pinned by eventual champion Justin Mejia from Clovis in his championship semifinal before meeting Redwood’s Joey Cisneros in the consolation semis. The two Tulare County lightweight studs first met this season in the Yosemite Divisional semifinals and provided a Visalia-Tulare battle for the ages. Campbell led that match nearly the entire way before Cisneros made a late charge to force overtime and eventually win the high scoring shootout 9-7.
Saturday’s sequel was completely different.
The first period of consolation matches at the state tournament only lasts one minute instead of two. With either a medal or elimination on the line, most wrestlers opt for a more conservative approach in the shortened period rather than risking a mistake that could put them in a 0-2 hole or worse.
Campbell — who went on to lose 8-6 to Bakersfield’s Navonte Deminson in the third place match — capitalized on this strategy and mapped out the entire match to perfection. He didn’t shoot one time. After keeping the shortened first period scoreless, Campbell chose to start the second frame in the bottom position and escaped for a 1-0 lead.
Cisneros had his chance to answer when he started the third period on bottom, but he looked for a winning reversal instead. The strategy may have cost him. Cisneros nearly escaped in the final seconds, but Campbell hung onto his leg just long enough to reach the buzzer and survive with a 1-0 win.
“I knew I had it,” Campbell said. “It was three seconds. I’m not going to let anything — even if I get kicked in the face five times — I just hung on. It was a good feeling after I beat him.”
Redwood coach Dave Watts wished his wrestler had just tried to tie the match with an escape rather than wrestling for the win in regulation.
“I wanted the tie because I think we’re better on the feet and [Campbell] is better on the mat,” Watts said. “I didn’t want to try to scramble with a scrambler.”
Seeing Watts and Cisneros on different pages in terms of strategy was especially surprising after what the senior said following his first match of the day — an 8-1 win over Michael Rangel from Calvary Chapel that clinched his first career state medal.
“We have good communication during the match,” Cisneros said. “[Watts] sees more than what I see so I know what he tells me is the right thing to do.”
The loss dropped Cisneros into the fifth place match where he lost 4-3 in overtime to Isaac Blackburn from Del Oro under a bit of controversy.
After the first extra period went scoreless, Blackburn escaped from a bottom start to take a 4-3 lead. Once again Cisneros found himself starting the final period on bottom needing to match an escape by his opponent. Once again he failed to do so with the clock running out as he tried in vain to shake a leg free.
The controversy was that Watts thought Blackburn locked his hands while holding onto Cisneros, which would have been a penalty.
“When you’re in a tight match, the official has to make the call right,” Watts said. “You have two officials on the mat and they can’t make the right call. The guy jumped [on restarts] like eight times. He only got called twice. He locked his hands when we were trying to get away — clearly locked his hands. We didn’t wrestle our match but it can’t be taken away from you like that. We’re here at the state championships. If the official can’t make the right call, what are they doing here?”
After finishing one win shy of the state podium in each of the last two seasons, both Watts and Cisneros were extremely relieved to finally break through to the medal rounds. Cisneros was quite nervous after losing in Friday’s quarterfinals, even if it didn’t show on the mat.
“He was a bundle of nerves,” Watts said. “We just tried to calm him and put him to bed at 8:30. He was nervous. He didn’t want to be labeled the guy that almost did.”
Cinseros confirmed what his coach sensed.
“I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy and I’ve been here before,” he said. “All I was thinking is that this is my senior year and I want to end it with a medal.
“I was so — I don’t want to say scared but I didn’t want to go out the same way three years in a row. I just had to leave it all on the mat and go all out. I went out there and got my win.”
Hard to say if that relief resulted in a letdown during the medal rounds, but Watts said this was his worst performance at a tournament all season. Unfortunately it means that Cisneros ends his high school career with bittersweet feelings. Earning his first state medal is worthy cause for celebration, but falling short of expectations yet again seemed to make that hard to enjoy.
Those expectations were higher than ever after he advanced to the finals of Divisionals and Masters in a section that took six of eight spots on the lightweight state podium.
“I think [Cisneros] is top 3 but you’ve got to prove it when you get here,” Watts said. “I don’t think he wrestled very good. It was probably his worst tournament of the season. He picked the wrong time to do it. It was still good enough to place, which says a lot about his skill and ability. I just know he’s much better than what he showed today. Obviously he’s beaten most of the guys that placed ahead of him [Campbell 9-7 in OT of Yosemite semis, Demison 4-2 in Central Section Masters semis]. He just didn’t have it today.
“This tournament is tough. It’s not nice to you. If you’re not ready every single match you’ll end up in sixth place.”