After a one-year hiatus, the La Quinta High School wrestling squad is, once again, champion of the Desert Valley League.
The Blackhawks needed a dramatic comeback to take out crosstown-rival Palm Desert 43-30 in the final match of the regular season, but winning the last five matches Wednesday night did the trick.
La Quinta was down 30-13 with five matches to go when it began the comeback, innocuously enough, with a forfeit in the 195-pound class because Palm Desert couldn’t produce a grappler at that weight, shaving the Aztecs’ lead to 30-19.
Then the comeback began in earnest when, at 220 pounds, Robbie Polimeni pinned Kevin Arzeta in just 15 seconds to make the score 30-25. The 285-pound Tanner Doria followed that up with a pin of Palm Desert’s Ian Ballesteros in just 25 seconds to put La Quinta up 31-30 — its first lead since 6-0 — with two matches to go.
It was then up to La Quinta’s 106-pounder, Joel Avila. A pin by the smallest Blackhawk would seal the win — and the league championship — for La Quinta. And that’s exactly what he did, 38 seconds into the second period. Avila pinned Chase Overgaag to put his team up 37-30 with just one match left.
“It was a tough match, but I had to win for my team,” Avila said. “I wasn’t expecting to pin him, but I just had to do what I had to do for my team. I just listened to my coaches and came out hard and aggressive.”
It wasn’t the first time Avila had faced Overgaag.
“My biggest surprise was Joel Avila, my 106-pounder,” La Quinta head coach Ron Perez said. “He wrestled that kid before and hadn’t beat him before.”
Both teams came into the match undefeated in league play at 5-0 with the winner walking away as DVL champs. Palm Desert was the reigning champion after breaking an eight-year streak of titles won by La Quinta.
“It feels really good. We lost it last year, and everybody was saying Palm Desert was gonna beat us this year, and we showed them up,” Avila said.
The La Quinta High School gymnasium was packed to capacity with around 2,000 in attendance, equal amounts of fans from both schools.
“It was pretty exciting; they prepared them well,” Palm Desert head coach Tom Lee said. “I think it was a fitting tribute to (former La Quinta head coach) Tom Jenkins.”
Jenkins, who was the only wrestling coach in La Quinta High School history, died of cancer last year.
“We had some inexperience with our heavier guys,” Lee added. “They just prepared their guys very well. A lot of their guys didn’t get pinned and that was part of their strategy.”
Both schools will send wrestlers to the DVL Individual Championship on Saturday at Palm Desert High School.