Aptos High freshman Cole Moules, left, beat Santa Cruz High's Mauricio Montoreano in the 144-pound weight class championship bout at the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Wrestling Tournament at Scotts Valley High School on Feb. 2. (Raul Ebio/The Pajaronian)

Aptos High senior Diego Hernandez had some unfinished business going into last week’s league wrestling championships after finishing runner-up in back-to-back years.

There was nothing he wanted more than to finally stand atop the podium for the first time in his career. 

The Mariners’ standout wrestler finally got over the hump by winning the 106-pound weight class title at the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Wrestling Tournament at Scotts Valley High School on Feb. 2.

“This year I was finally able to get it done, it feels pretty nice,” he said. “It just means that I really know more about myself. If I want to go to a challenge, I know I can do it. If I want to find a different way to make my own way to do something, I know I can.” 

Although there was no podium on site, he did manage to walk away with a first place medal on Friday night. 

In order to do so, he pinned Soquel freshman Nathaniel Marcus in the second period. Hernandez—who sustained a bloody nose during the bout—said it came down to setting his own pace and not making any silly errors. He was also well aware it was his final chance to win a league title wearing a Mariners’ uniform. 

“After the blood, I just really realized I just gotta settle in. I feel like I did just that,” he said.

Hernandez was hit with a one-point penalty for an illegal move in the first period. He brushed it off by scoring six straight points for a 7-2 lead before putting Marcus flat on the mat for the pin. 

Both finalists qualified for the Central Coast Section Southern Regional Tournament set to take place at Watsonville High on Saturday starting at 9am. 

“I’m just looking forward to having a good time. The last few years, even though I came up short a bit, it was still fun,” said Hernandez about competing at CCS. “This year, I’m just looking to do the same thing. I’m not worried about placing or going on to [CIF] State, but just going in, give everything I have and getting as many wins as I can.”

Aptos High won the league tournament with a score of 186 points. Santa Cruz High (130) took second, followed by San Lorenzo Valley High (115) and Soquel (115) in a tie for third, Harbor (109) in fifth and Scotts Valley (50) in sixth. 

However, the Cardinals won the overall SCCAL crown after going 5-0 in league dual meets and not placing third or below in the league tournament. The Mariners, who finished 4-1 in dual meets, placed second and Harbor was third overall this season.

“We’ve always said don’t worry about league, let’s worry about peaking at the right times,” said Aptos head coach Rudy Guzman, who announced he will retire at the end of the season. “And I think just looking at the team scores today, we’re peaking. Going into regionals, into CCS and potentially State is where exactly I wanted to be with these kids.”

Junior Xavier Maciel (132-pounds) lost via fall in the third period to Harbor High senior Demarco Murrilo Chavez, who chipped a tooth during the opening period. Both qualified for CCS.  

In just his third year of wrestling competitively, Aptos freshman Cole Moules (144) pinned top seed Santa Cruz High junior Mauricio Montoreano to capture his first league title.

Moules was ranked No. 2 going into the tournament and admitted to being nervous prior to the championship bout. However, the up-and-coming stud stayed cool, calm and collected en route to victory.

“I’m just starting. I still got three more years but I’m going to finish this year good,” Moules said.

Prior to the season, Moules came up to Guzman with a list of goals and one of them was being a league champion. 

Moules lost to Montoreano in the teams’ dual meet earlier this season, yet Guzman said he was confident the outcome would be much different come league finals. 

“These last two weeks, [Moules has] just been preparing for this match and he pulled it off. But it’s just him being driven for his goal,” Guzman said.   

Aptos senior Jaxon Stoner pinned Scotts Valley High sophomore Micaiah Trujillo in the 157-pound weight division championship bout.

Like most of his senior classmates, Stoner missed a majority of his freshman season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The following year he broke a foot and competed in just one tournament.

As a junior, he was runner-up at last year’s SCCAL tourney.  

“It’s just a big accomplishment and me being a multi-sport athlete playing football, as well, I can’t get that year around wrestling like a lot of these kids can,” Stoner said. “So, I feel in practice I have to work double time than everyone else. So far, it’s been paying off.”

Aptos High junior Lucas Zuniga became a two-time heavyweight champion with a win over San Lorenzo Valley High sophomore Andrew Gafford in the 285-pound weight division.  

“I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Zuniga said. “All your teammates got to have your back. They push us, all my seniors, too… Everybody pushes us to work hard and want to succeed more.” 

Zuniga admitted he was a goofball during his freshman year. He said it took someone like Guzman to instill the confidence he needed to succeed. 

“[Guzman] would bring me into the office and say ‘Hey, you got to stop goofing off. I see a lot of potential in you.’ I think that really put, like Jaxson [Stoner] said, put a chip on my shoulder and I was just like, ‘Okay, I gotta work hard. There’s a lot I could do out of this.’”

It’s also been a special moment for Stoner to have Guzman by his side on what he considers to be his final ride.

“It means a lot because me and Rudy, we had a special connection and I feel he’s just such a nice coach,” Stoner said. “He understands if something’s wrong and he wants the best for you. Not just as a wrestler, but as a person and he wants to be a person you could trust as a friend.”

In the meantime, Guzman will prepare just like he’s done for the past 21 years at Aptos. There’s still three weeks left in the season and retirement is the last thing on his mind.

“I’m pretty sure when we finish the awards banquet in April, that’s what’s going to hit. Because even after state I’m gonna be thinking, ‘Alright, I gotta order our end of the year awards…there’s still a lot of logistics, so I’m still not even thinking retirement.”  

SCCAL Girls Championships

Aptos placed second as a team with a score of 58, slightly ahead Scotts Valley Aptos (52) and behind this year’s league champion Santa Cruz (66). SLV took fourth with a score of 48, followed by Soquel (31) in fifth and Harbor (21) in sixth.

Senior Janie Houser pinned Santa Cruz junior Yacibe Hernandez in the first round to win her second-straight 127-pound weight class title. 

“I work hard in practice all year, I would expect nothing less. I want to win league,” Houser said. “I have way harder competition at [CCS] Regionals. There’s definitely been, even from last year, major growth in girls wrestling. So, I already have to have some hard battles at Regionals that will also hopefully happen at State, too.”

Guzman knows Houser will have a tough road ahead of her, but he believes Houser is fully prepared for the challenge. 

Lilly Bane (107-pounds) won her title by default but the Mariners did suffer a trio of shocking losses. It started with Bella Cruz (112) who was pinned in the second period by Scotts Valley High sophomore Citlali Lopez.

Aptos senior Vivian Macias (122) was stunned and pinned in the first period by Santa Cruz freshman Marlena Gustafson, while senior Ashley Matys (130) lost to Santa Cruz freshman Onyx Escobar in a 6-2 decision.

Macias—a second-year wrestler—worked hard during the offseason, but she broke her collarbone about eight weeks ago. She had a dream of returning to the mat and Guzman gave her the green light.

“These girls are just still new to the sport and just being in the spotlight probably meant a lot to them, too,” Guzman said.

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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