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Wrestle fest

What lasts two days, involves over 60 teams and over 1,000 matches on nine mats in two gyms?

If you answered the Sharyland Pioneer Grapefruit Bowl Wrestling Championships you would be correct.

Mission Eagles’ wrestler Dante Lopez (black and maroon), who took first place in the 285 lb. weight class at Pioneer High School’s Grapefruit Bowl Wrestling Tournament, looks to his coach for instructions during his semifinal round match against Pioneer wrestler Orlando Camacho (gray and red). Progress Times photo by Luciano Guerra.

In addition, the tournament featured over 650 competitors, handed out over 150 medals and trophies, and t-shirts featuring Gary the Grappling Grapefruit, the tournament mascot. A total of 13 referees officiated the competition, each one working close to or over 100 matches.

Almost every Valley high school with a wrestling program, along with several Corpus Christi schools, descended on Sharyland Pioneer High School last weekend for the massive tournament in preparation for the upcoming district, regional and state tournaments that take place in February.

Pioneer coach Richard Eckley explained the reasoning behind the tournament. “To get kids as many matches as possible against as many different people as possible,” he said. “With district coming up a lot of people want to see what it is they need to work on in order to prepare for district.”

Sharyland High coach James Penbrook talked about the benefits of being in a big tournament. “When you get to regionals, it’s a long, grueling tournament. Kids are wrestling four or five matches a day and learning how to do that and how to have the mental focus to stay going 100 miles an hour on Saturday afternoon when you’ve wrestled five matches the day before and you’re on your fifth match of the day, that’s tough. It’s mentally training yourself how to do that.”

Mission Veterans coach Ben Yzaguirre liked the fact that his wrestlers would get a lot of matches and that they would face off against good competition. 

La Joya girls coach Chris Hernandez felt that the mat time gained over the weekend would help his team gain experience.

La Joya boys coach Rudy Cavazos hoped the tournament would allow his team to finish tuning up their technique while at the same time maintaining where they were at. 

Six of the Big 7 schools attended, with the boys and girls teams from Sharyland Pioneer leading the way. The Diamondbacks took top honors in the boys division edging out Los Fresnos for the title, getting individual championships from Angel Avila (126 lbs.) and Ethan Garza (220 lbs.)

The Lady Diamondbacks finished fifth in the girls division, tops among the six Big 7 schools entered. Edinburg North won the girls team title. Like the boys, the Lady Diamondbacks crowned two individual champions. Dani Roman won the 148 lb. division and Crystal Palafox was first in the 215 lb. division. 

Other boys winners from the Big 7 included Alberto Mendoza (Sharyland High – 106 lbs.), Jacob Gonzalez (La Joya High – 145 lbs.) and Dante Lopez (Mission High – 285 lbs.).

Jerilyn Perelez (Sharyland High – 95 lbs.) and Natalie Rosas (La Joya High – 138 lbs.) won individual titles in the girls division. 

Winning their respective weight classes required two days of wrestling and, at times, a lot of waiting. Competitors were placed into groups for their Friday matches , with the top two from each group advancing to the championship brackets on Saturday, most of which consisted of 16 individuals. All of this translated into six or seven matches for the weekend. 

“It’s wrestling; you just got to battle through it,” said Lopez. “It’s one of those where you can’t stop.”

Gonzalez talked about the need for energy and preparing the right way so one isn’t tired when they get to their matches. 

Perelez said she passes the time by listening to music and focusing on her next opponent in-between matches. Rosas had six matches over the two days and said the key to getting through was just to keep fighting and keep putting your heart into it. 

La Joya Lady Coyotes’ wrestler Natalie Rosas (red), who took first place in the 138 lb. weight class at Pioneer High School’s Grapefruit Bowl Wrestling Tournament, looks to get the advantage over her semifinal opponent from Corpus Christi Carroll. Progress Times photo by Luciano Guerra.

And while this was a big tournament, the bigger ones, in terms of continuing ones’ season are still to come. 

The schools of the Big 7 will be competing in two different district tournaments and a number of talented individuals on both the boys and girls sides should advance beyond district. 

La Joya, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln and Mission High are part of District 15-6A. 

Besides Gonzalez, La Joya Highs’ Andres Ochoa (130 lbs.) and Michael De La Cruz (152 lbs.) have had solid seasons. Mission High has Lopez as well as Nikolas Mann (160 lbs.) and Luis Balderas (170 lbs.) to help the team gather points. 

Juarez-Lincoln is the defending district champion on the boy’s side and returns Carlos Doria (126 lbs.), Jose Cerda (132 lbs.) and Willi Bonilla (195 lbs.).

On the girl’s side La Joya has Rosas along with Brenda Moreno (95 lbs.). Juarez-Lincoln features Jazmin Munoz (110 lbs.) and Jessica Aldama (165 lbs.) Mission High has been led by Alma Galot (95 lbs.), Zeneida Vega (102 lbs.) and Alexia Sandoval (165 lbs.).

The Progress Times previously reported that the District 15-6A meet will be February 4 at McAllen Rowe High School but it will actually be at McAllen High School.

La Joya Palmview and Mission Veterans are part of District 16-5A along with Sharyland High and Sharyland Pioneer. 

Palmview’s Joseph Zeiske finished second this past weekend at 138 lbs. Mission Veterans returns Leeroy Villanueva in the 160 lb. division. Besides Mendoza, Sharyland High has Federico Rodriguez (120 lbs.) and Santino Pascual (170 lbs.).

Pioneer returns two individual district champions (Avila, Garza) to help defend their team district title from last year. 

In the girls’ division, Palmview is led by Brooklyn Garza (128 lbs.) and Judith Rivas (165 lbs.). Vianni Dominguez (185 lbs.) is back for Mission Veterans. Perelez has led the Lady Rattlers all season and Pioneer, the defending district champions, have Roman and Palafox.

The District 16-5A meet is scheduled for February 5 and 6 at Edcouch-Elsa High School.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Jan. 24, 2020 issue of the Progress Times.

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