Last year 25 Big 7 schools’ wrestlers made it all the way to the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL’s) state tournament – 19 as qualifiers and six as alternates. Of those 25, two returned to the Valley having won one of the highly coveted state medals – Juarez-Lincoln’s Leslie Oliva, silver medalist in the 95 lb. weight class, and La Joya’s Daisy Ramirez, fifth place finisher in the 165 lb. weight class.
How many local wrestlers will be making the trip to the state tournament in Garland, Texas this year and how many of those will return with medals, is still to be determined. However, seven Sharyland, Mission and La Joya 16-5A and eight 16-6A wrestlers took the first step towards achieving that lofty goal last week by winning district championships in each of their respective weight classes.
At the District 16-5A championship tournament held at Veterans Memorial High School, the Rio Grande City boys’ and girls’ teams both took district titles with the Pioneer boys and the Veterans Memorial girls being the runners-up.
In that tournament, Armando Bustillos (120 lbs.) of Veterans Memorial, Joseth Suarez (126 lbs.) of Sharyland and Dominique Rodriguez (170 lbs.) of Pioneer took district titles for the boys. In the girls’ tournament four members of the Veterans Memorial team took district titles – Joaida Tornes (102 lbs.), Brandi Alaniz (138 lbs.), Mariah Gonzalez (165 lbs.) and Klarissa Blanco (185 lbs.).
As a three-time state qualifier, Blanco (16-0 record) will be looking to not only make her fourth trip to Garland in as many years but also to better her previous best finish at state of sixth place.
“Last year I was really looking forward to getting first in state but I fell short because I needed more cardio,” shared Blanco. “That is why I went to the gym all summer preparing myself for the season and why I’ve been working hard during the season preparing myself for state. This is my last year and I really want to place first. That would make me so happy; especially because Coach (David) Gilpin told me that he would put my name on a banner in the gym if I placed first at state.”
Like Blanco, Joaida Tornes is in her senior year of wrestling for the Lady Patriots. And like Blanco, Tornes has her sights set on a regional championship and a return trip to the state tournament.
“I’ve always wrestled in the 95 lb. weight class,” Tornes said. “This year I jumped up to the 102 lb. class and it took me, my coaches and everybody by surprise that I was able to win at district at this weight. Going into regionals, I have the mentality of leaving everything on the mat. It comes down to whoever has the most heart.”
Brandi Alaniz earned her first district championship in this her senior season. She credits her success in part to the leadership provided by two of the Lady Patriots’ captains.
“Klarissa and Joaida are both very good captains and they’ve taught me a lot,” shared Alaniz. “By watching them, by having them tell me that I can do it and by them pushing me to that point that they have is what’s helped me to succeed.”
In her first year of wrestling, Mariah Gonzalez took the district championship in the 165 lb. weight class. Having previously devoted herself to volleyball, Gonzalez shared why she took up wrestling in this her senior year when she said, “Two of my cousins, Rudy Gonzalez and Jackie Gonzalez, wrestled and went to state; Jackie got second and Rudy got fourth. It’s taken a lot of work for all these girls to win championships and advance to state and I just wanted to be a part of that.”
In the 16-6A tournament held at Edinburg Economedes High School, the Weslaco boys and the Juarez-Lincoln girls took the team district titles. Individual district champions for the boys included Gaudencio Tavarez (113 lbs.) of La Joya High, Rene Beas (182 lbs.) of Juarez-Lincoln, Gustavo Arpero (195 lbs.) of Palmview and Jonathan Mares (220 lbs.) of Mission High. Individual district champions for the girls included Leslie Oliva (95 lbs.) and Jesenia Gaytan (215 lbs.) of Juarez-Lincoln and Rosario Ramirez (119 lbs.) and Steffany Rosas (185 lbs.) of La Joya High School.
The Region IV 5A and 6A championship tournaments are both being held today and tomorrow (Feb. 12 and 13). The 5A tournament is being held at the AISD Delco Activity Center in Austin while the 6A tournament is being held at the Blossom Athletic Center in San Antonio. The 2016 UIL State Tournament is being held February 19 and 20 at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD’s Berry Center in Houston.