Pump the breaks on that East Yosemite League wrestling landscape remodel.
Tulare County wrestling fans anticipating the EYL showdown between Mission Oak and Porterville must wait a little longer.
The dual expected to go a long ways towards shaping the EYL champion — and potentially serving as a changing of the guard for the league — was postponed Thursday night for undisclosed reasons.
Porterville has won the past five league championships, but the dynasty appears ripe for a fall. The Panthers graduated a wave of key wrestlers including program pillars Mason Pengilly and Greg Pagela.
Meanwhile, Mission Oak’s stock continues to soar. The Hawks actually beat Porterville head-to-head in last year’s dual during a banner season for the program, but ended up losing the league title at the EYL tournament.
This year Mission Oak is ranked No. 9 in the state by The California Wrestler while Porterville — typically a staple in the rankings — doesn’t even crack the top 30.
“I think we’re the favorites,” said Jaden Enriquez, who moved up to the No. 1 spot at 132 pounds in the state rankings after winning his weight class at the Doc Buchanan Invitational this past weekend. “We had young team last year. They [Porterville] lost all their powerhouses. I think we have all the powerhouses now.”
Porterville coach Tim Vanni admits his team is an underdog this season despite its success over the past half-decade, but his team is embracing the role.
“Our team has grown up in the underdog role,” Vanni said. “There are different ways to motivate kids. Certainly it’s a lot easier being an underdog with no expectations on you. I like both roles. We’re the underdog and that’s okay. I’d much rather be on top dominating from a position of strength.”
Mission Oak may be the favorite, but coach Craig Vejvoda knows that doesn’t make the Hawks league champions just yet.
“Porterville is the champ,” Vejvoda said. “You have to beat the champ to be the champ. That’s our goal. We have our work cut out for us.”
Vejvoda said he wants the dual make-up date to be scheduled for Feb. 3, but Porterville coach Tim Vanni said that decision will not be made until next Wednesday. Ultimately the athletic directors from both schools will make the final schedule.
The drive for Five
With the dual against Porterville cancelled, Vejvoda drove down to the Five Counties tournament in Fountain Valley with three of his top wrestlers on Thursday night. Enriquez, David Campbell and Brock Dias will represent the Hawks in a field that routinely attracts many of the state’s top talents.
Many of those eyes will be on Enriquez as he spends his first weekend wrestling with the No. 1 state ranking after grabbing one of the signature cowboy hat trophies given to Doc Buchanan champions.
“It’s kind of nerve-racking. It’s a weird feeling,” Enriquez said. “[Winning a cowboy hat] is a huge confidence booster. Now I know have a bigger target on my back. I have to work harder.”
Campbell moved up to No. 2 at 113 pounds in the state rankings following his second consecutive appearance in the Doc Buchanan finals. He is trailed closely at No. 4 by Porterville’s Andrew Nelms, who will also be at Five Counties. Campbell edged Nelms 5-4 in the Doc Buchanan quarterfinals. They will likely see each other a few more times in league competition and on the road to Rabobank Arena.
“To make the finals at the Doc is a tremendous achievement,” Vejvoda said. “To win one of those cowboy hats, that’s just special. Both David and Jaden are great athletes.”
The rest of Mission Oak’s team will compete at the 54th annual Redwood Invitational, a tournament that routinely draws the highest volume of Tulare County teams and wrestlers under one roof.
Area teams participating in this year’s tournament include Redwood, Mission Oak, Dinuba, Monache, Exeter, Mt. Whitney, Golden West, Tulare Union, Woodlake, Farmersville, and Granite Hills.
The field also includes Clovis, the No. 1 ranked team in the state by The California Wrestler and winners of the past four state titles. Redwood coach Dave Watts said the Cougars aren’t bringing their full team, but will have a “tough, young squad” on site.
Returning to the field after an extended absence is No. 19 ranked Clovis West. Newcomers include Carlsbad and Carson (Nevada).
“It raises the level of competition,” Watts said. “Teams like Clovis want to come in and beat them.”
Dinuba sits at No. 22 in the state rankings, but the Emperors are sending their top wrestlers to the Temecula Valley’s Battle for the Belt. That group includes Michael Wright (No. 5 at 170), Jacob Wright (No. 9 at 132), Isaiah Perez (No. 11 and 106), Dawuud Davis (No. 13 at 285), David Padilla (No. 14 at 220) and David Del Bosque (No. 22 at 138).
One elite wrestler who will be at the Redwood Invitational is Quartz Hill’s Randon Miranda, who is ranked No. 2 in the state at 106 pounds.
The Rangers themselves feature three wrestlers in the state rankings: freshman Brett Villareal (No. 32 at 126), Isaiah Torres (No. 31 at 138) and Sammy Pena (No. 40 at 120).
Exeter features Kyle Jones (No. 26 at 160) and Tanner Jones (HM at 152).
Golden West’s Cesar Delgado checks in at No. 31 for the heavyweight division.
Tulare Union’s Esteban Bernal looks to continue his breakout freshman year after a pair of second place finishes at Lemoore’s Bash and the Dinuba Invitational.
El Diamante and its two studs — Jacob Delgado (No. 21 at 126) and Enrique Padilla (No. 25 at 160) — will once again not be abscence.
Wrestling begins at 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday. Estimated start times for the semifinals and finals are 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, but those times are subject to change depending on how the tournament moves during the day.