FELTON—Aptos High’s wrestling team was on the brink of dropping below a top-3 finish at last week’s league finals after some of its studs lost in the earlier rounds.
That’s when a trio of their athletes in the upper weight classes in James Craig, Dante Aranda and Lucas Zuniga took charge for the Mariners to help them place third at last week’s Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Wrestling Championships at San Lorenzo Valley High School.
“My heavyweights, they were hungry,” said Aptos coach Rudy Guzman.
Leading up into Friday’s tournament, the trio put in extra work in practice and were laser focused on bringing home a gold medal.
The Mariners took third as a team with a score of 134, finishing behind Harbor High (155) and new league champion Santa Cruz (162), which finished the season with 10 league points—five points for going 5-0 in league duals and five for Friday night’s tournament.
Soquel High (111) took fourth, followed by San Lorenzo Valley (76) and Scotts Valley (40) in fifth and sixth, respectively.
Aptos finished tied for second in the league standings alongside Harbor with seven points this season.
The Mariners (4-1) earned four points for league duals and three in Friday’s tournament, while the Pirates (3-2) earned three points for duals and four in the league finals.
“Overall it was a good performance,” Guzman said. “We came in here to make sure everybody got to wrestle…this is just the icing on the cake, let’s have one more tournament and just place them where they’re going to succeed.”
The top two finishers in their respective weight class automatically qualified for the Central Coast Section Southern Regionals, which will take place at Watsonville High School on Saturday at 9am.
The top-8 finishers in the Regionals qualify for the Masters for a chance of becoming a section champion and earn a berth to the CIF State Championships at Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield on Feb. 23-25.
Craig, a senior, punched his ticket to CCS Regionals after he pinned Jackson Stevens of Soquel to capture the 195-pound crown in front of his family and friends who cheered for him loudly.
“That was something I wanted since the first day I came back,” Craig said.
It was a long time coming for Craig, who didn’t compete during his sophomore and junior years due to a knee surgery. He worked his way back into wrestling shape and his mission this season was to win that coveted league title.
Craig—who is also training up for the upcoming baseball season—said he wants to have fun at Regionals and enjoy the moment.
“I just wanted it the whole year,” he said. “I didn’t care about the tournaments, I would go 1-2. I’d say, ‘Who cares? I’m going to win league.’”
Craig watched and cheered for his wrestling partner Aranda, a senior, who went on to pin Corbett Whitlock of Harbor in the second period of the 220-pound championship.
“He’s been my friend for a couple of years,” Craig said. “Just both of us winning together that just set the bar, so awesome.”
Zuniga, a sophomore, nearly went the distance before pinning Luke Akiyama of Soquel High in the third period to capture the 285-pound championship.
“Our three heavyweights were standout,” Guzman said.
The heavyweights may have made a big splash on the mat, but it was the lighter weights who struggled the most in the championship round.
Diego Hernandez had trouble getting anything going in his 106-pound title match, losing in a rough 10-0 decision to Balam Letona of league champion Santa Cruz.
In the 132–pound title match, Andrew Acevedo was pinned in the third period by DeMarco Murrillo-Chavez of Harbor despite having a 5-3 lead. Then fellow teammate Jaxson Stoner was pinned by Diallo Thomas of Harbor in the 152-pound title bout.
Acevedo and Stoner still qualified for the CCS Regionals after winning their wrestle-off match against the third place finisher in their respective weight classes.
On the girls side, Aptos junior Janie Houser was in total control of her 126-pound title match, beating Suki Kasmi of Soquel in a 21-4 major decision victory.
“My mindset was to be as strong as possible, try some new takedowns, throws and things that I don’t usually try in matches,” Houser said.
Houser took a 9-3 lead in the second period and never looked back en route to her first championship after winning last year’s league finals by way of default.
The young standout wrestler wanted to enjoy one more match in front of the local crowd and put on as much of a show as possible.
“I didn’t get to experience last year because there weren’t any other girls in her weight class,” Houser said. “That’s great because that means wrestling for women is growing.”
Fellow teammate Ryan Tosello won the 150-pound championship after pinning Julia Carranza of Harbor, while fellow teammate Mikayla Santaella lost to Cynthia Rosales-Perez of Santa Cruz in sudden-death overtime of the 170-pound championship.
After being down 4-1 in the third period, Santaella scored three points in the final minute to make it, 4-4.
However, it was Rosales-Perez who stole one point with 20 seconds left in the extra period to beat Santaella, 5-4.
Still, all three girls qualified for this weekend’s CCS Southern Regionals and the confidence is sky high with Houser, who anticipates placing in the top eight at regionals and then a top four finish at the CCS Masters Tournament.
“My goal is to place as high as possible for regionals and masters because I really want to place at State,” she said. “[I want to] be ranked in the state in a sport that’s tough for women specifically.”
Guzman said they’re attempting to get wrestlers hyped up and ready with the addition of the Regionals round because it’s a bigger deal than most believe.
He mentioned how there’s now an extra layer and the Regionals is no joke, especially with schools from the Pacific Coast Athletic League and Blossom Valley Athletic League.
“It’s a tough journey, so I’m trying to tell these kids, ‘Hey man, it’s a big accomplishment making it to Regionals,’” Guzman said. “It’s back to grinding it in the room on Monday and just trying to tell these kids Regionals is the next big step.”
SCCAL Wrestling Championships
Santa Cruz – 162
Harbor – 155
Soquel – 111
SLV – 76
Scotts Valley – 40
League overall standings
Santa Cruz – 10
Aptos – 7
Harbor – 7
Soquel – 4
San Lorenzo Valley – 1.5
Scotts Valley – .5