High School Wrestling

2017 Battle for the Belt Preview

Welcome to the 9th Annual Battle for the Belt Invitational hosted by Temecula Valley Wrestling and sponsored by WrestlingMart.  This year’s competition represents what fans, spectators, and wrestling enthusiasts have come to expect in this event:  an elite field of competitors in a spectacular setting that seeks to elevate the great sport of wrestling to the highest degree.  Temecula Valley Wrestling would like to thank all of those who help make this event possible including our tournament sponsor WrestlingMart, the Temecula Valley Wrestling parents and volunteers, and all wrestling enthusiasts in general.  Without your support, this event would not be possible.

To follow is a breakdown of the potential participants at each of the fourteen wrestling weight classes for this year’s Battle for the Belt.  But first, let’s take a look at some of the teams in attendance.  Once again, Poway leads the charge in the team race.  They come into this year’s Battle for the Belt ranked #3 in the state and #15 nationally by The Open Mat.  The Titans are very deep and they appear poised to capture a fourth consecutive Title Belt for Head Coach Wayne Branstetter.  Those who will attempt to make their own mark on the team race include perennial Sac-Joaquin Section power Vacaville as well as star-laden St. John Bosco of the Southern Section.  The out-of-state participants may also add some flavor to the team competition.  Green Valley has become a powerhouse in the state of Nevada winning the past several Nevada state championships.  Former Arizona state champions Cibola come in ranked #3 in their state.  The Central Section has a strong contingent of caliber teams at this year’s Battle for the Belt including Clovis North, Clovis West, Frontier, and Dinuba.  There are eight team trophies up for grabs and each of these squads boast the talent to make them a factor for one of these trophies.  Southern Section teams from the Inland area may also be represented well in the quest to get into the top 8.  These teams include Sultana, Santiago, and Palm Desert, all of which may have the firepower and depth to keep them in the hunt for a team trophy.

The Title Belt at 106 may be up for grabs in this very competitive weight class that contains a balanced blend of battle-tested veterans along with those standout freshmen that are always associated with this division.  Three proven contenders include Poway’s Jacob Allen, Downey’s Jonathan Prata, and Frontier’s Cole Reyes.  Allen was third at last year’s Battle for the Belt and he was a quarterfinalist at the California state tournament in March.  Prata also qualified for last year’s state tournament and did so by placing third in the very tough Southern Section Masters.  Reyes will be looking to improve upon his second place finish at last week’s prestigious Doc B tournament.  In order to do so, he will not only have to fend off Prata and Allen, but he may have to deal with freshman standout Aaron Nagao of Esperanza.  Nagao has already proven himself as a title contender having won the prestigious Reno Tournament of Champions in December.  Should he vie for the Belt, however, he may well have to avenge the only loss in his young career which came at the hands of Green Valley’s (Nevada) Steele Dias.  Also in medal contention, look for Ryan Spangler of Sultana, Taylor Bencomo of Clovis North, Chris Shirar of Vacaville, Timothy Levine of St. John Bosco, and Chris Kelly of Chandler (Arizona).

Fab Freshman are in full effect at this weight class as Jesse Vasquez of St. John Bosco and Devin Murphy of Clovis North lead the way at 113.  Having already proven himself with finals appearances at two separate nationally acclaimed tournaments (Doc B and Walsh Ironman), Vasquez will look to notch the first major championship of his young career at the Battle for the Belt.  Murphy will look to avenge a semifinals defeat to Vasquez at last week’s Doc B in his quest for the Title Belt.  If Murphy can make a championship run, it would help his team move up significantly in the team race.   Carson Sauriol will try to help Poway hold serve by contending at this weight class.  Though Sauriol was not able to finish the season in the Titan’s lineup last year, he did prove himself a viable threat having placed fourth at last year’s Battle for the Belt.  Hoping to show these underclassmen how it’s done are seniors Oscar Nellis of Rancho Buena Vista and Edward Hruby of Vacaville.  Nellis is a two-time state qualifier while Hruby is a defending Sac-Joaquin section champion.  On a good day, both are capable of making title runs of their own.

Hold onto your helmets because this one is likely to get bumpy.  Out-of-state flare makes Belt contention at 120 pounds up for grabs. Let’s start with nationally ranked Ian Timmins of Wooster (Nevada).  Timmins is a multiple time Nevada state champion and a former titlist at the Reno Tournament of Champions.  Another defending state champion in this field is Jordan Martinez of Pine Creek (Colorado).  Martinez is a three-time Battle for the Belt medalist and a three-time Fargo All-American.  Likely the most decorated wrestler in the field is Jason Holmes of Chandler (Arizona).  Holmes is a defending state champion, defending Battle for the Belt champion, and a former Fargo National Champion. Not enough competition?  Let’s throw in Georgia state finalist Cleveland Belton who now wrestles for Temescal Canyon.  Still not enough competition?  How about a pair of California state medalists in Poway’s Chase Zollman and Clovis North’s Eric Rivera?  Both finished third at last year’s state meet (at 113 and 106, respectively).  Like Holmes, Zollman is also a defending Battle for the Belt champion.  Throw in returning Southern Section Masters finalist Christian Nunez of St. John Bosco along with two-time returning state qualifier Elijah Palacio of Calvary Chapel and you have what may be the toughest weight class in this year’s tournament.

Defending Southern Section Masters champion and California State medalist Luciano Arroyo of Calvary Chapel appears to be the favorite at 126 pounds.  Former North Coast Section champion Aaron Perez of James Logan is coming off a solid performance at last week’s Doc B tournament and he may turn some heads this weekend.  Clovis North has a pair of returning state qualifiers vying for a starting spot at this weight class in Rocky Beckett and Matt Diaz.  Whoever they send at this weight should be in contention for a medal.  Others who will be in medal contention include Beau Perez of San Marino, state-ranked Franxl Zaragosa of Cibola (Arizona), and two-time state qualifier Marco Ramirezlazos of Rancho Buena Vista.

When you consider that up to fifteen wrestlers in this weight class have previous state tournament experience, it may be fair to say that the 132-pound class represents the deepest field in the tournament.  Out in front are a pair of returning state placers in Dinuba’s Isaiah Perez and Poway’s Scotty Kiyono.  Perez is highly decorated coming in ranked 11th nationally by The Open mat.  He is a two-time Battle for the Belt finalist having won it as a sophomore while falling just short of a second consecutive Title Belt a year ago.  Perez is also a two-time state California state placer.  Kiyono of Poway is a returning state placer in his own right, having placed seventh at the California state championships to cap off his junior season.  Kiyono appears to be in peak form and he may be primed to deny Perez of a second Title Belt.  Don’t forget about former California state placer Chris Deloza of Clovis North.  Deloza placed fifth in the state as a sophomore and has earned some extremely credible head-to-head victories over the years.  That said, Frontier’s Elijah Ozuna comes in ranked ahead of Deloza thanks to his own head-to-head victory over Deloza earlier in the season.  Ozuna is a former state qualifier out of the very tough Central Section.  Speaking of state qualifiers…keep an eye on this group of returning or former state qualifiers:  Adrian Salgado of ML King, Jose Rubio of Barstow, Aaron Diaz of Canyon Springs, Bernie Truax of Rancho Buena Vista, Issack Espana of Clovis West, Nathan Navida of San Marcos (San Diego), Eric Rocha of San Fernando, and Manavjot Singh of James Logan.  Add in Arizona state-ranked wrestlers David Wurtemburg of Cibola and Thomas Bigelow of Chandler along with Josh Brown of Esperanza who placed third at this season’s Reno TOC and you have one EXTREMELY deep field.

Freshman phenom Sonny Santiago of St. John Bosco could make a run for the Belt if he can continue his hot streak.  Just last week, he knocked off last year’s Battle for the Belt Lower Weight OW, who also happened to be the #1 ranked wrestler in the state of California.  If Santiago can continue this pattern, he may find himself hoisting the Title Belt on Saturday evening.  First, he may have to deal with the likes of Yucaipa’s Alejandro Raya who finished third in the Southern Section Masters a year ago.  Raya missed placing at state by one match, with his two losses coming to the first and third place finishers.  Others who will vye for medals at this weight include returning California state qualifiers Nikola Petrucelli of Clovis North, Marco Hernandez of Frontier, and Isaiah Walls of Clovis West, along with Arizona’s #1 ranked Alan Beltran of Cibola, returning Nevada state medalist Ryder Marchello of Arbor View, and three-time returning Nevada state medalist Mason Campbell of Bishop Gorman.

The clear favorite at 145 is returning California state finalist Jacob Wright of Dinuba.  Wright is a two-time returning Battle for the Belt medalist and he comes in looking for his first Title Belt.  Wright made an epic run at last year’s California state tournament, knocking off the defending state champion before falling in the finals.  Also looking for his first Title Belt will be Vacaville’s Lawrence Saenz who came storming onto the scene at last year’s Battle for the Belt.  There, he dominated the eventual California state champion in his weight class en route to a third place finish.  If he hopes to improve upon that finish from a year ago, he will likely have to score a similar victory over one of the aforementioned state placers.  Be sure not to overlook defending Nevada state champion and Fargo All-American Hale Enos of Faith Lutheran.  Others to watch at this weight include freshman standout Dominic Mata of Poway, Josh Solomon of St. John Bosco, Gabe DeHaro of Temescal Canyon, and Trent Tracy of Frontier.

The 152-pound class represents the second consecutive weight class that could involve the #1 and #2 ranked wrestlers in California.  Poway’s Quentin Hovis is a former Battle for the Belt champion, winning his first Title Belt during his sophomore season.  In this, his senior season, Hovis has won everything put in his path including the nationally elite Walsh Ironman.  For his efforts, Hovis comes into the Battle for the Belt not only ranked #1 in the state of California, but he also carries the #1 national ranking as well.  Santiago’s Joshua Kim has proven himself in the state of California, finishing third at last year’s state meet in just his sophomore season.  Constantly looking for a challenge, Kim bumped up at last week’s Riverside County Championships to wrestle the #1 ranked wrestler in the state of California at 160 pounds, Luke Troy of ML King.  Kim was ultimately able to defeat the #1 ranked Troy, a feat he will have to repeat this week if he is to take home the coveted Belt.  Others who will be in medal contention include a pair of wrestlers who were a match away from placing at state in Isaiah Burks (Hemet) and Beau Bradley (Monache), returning state qualifiers Jonathan Garcia (Frontier) and Juan Ruiz (Mt. Miguel), as well as Arizona #2 ranked Aaron Gandara of Cibola.  Also be on the lookout for whoever Sultana enters at this weight.  It could be Eric Solis who was 7th at the Doc B or Nathan Vargas who is a returning state qualifier.

The clear favorite in the 160-pound division is Luke Troy of ML King.  Troy is a two-time California state placer and he currently comes in ranked #1 in the state.  Troy has always enjoyed success at the Battle for the Belt, placing in all three of his previous appearances.  In the past two appearances at the Battle for the Belt, Troy has made it into the championship finals only to fall to what would become the eventual state champion in each of those years.  If Troy can crack the code at this year’s Battle for the Belt, perhaps it will also catapult him to a state championship come March.  Two-time Battle for the Belt medalist and defending Colorado state champion Peter Isais of Pine Creek is no slouch and he may represent Troy’s biggest threat to a championship run.  Also hoping to claim their stake for the coveted Title Belt will be returning California state placer Hampton Boyd of Poway and sophomore standout Mark Cardwell of Monache who already has a head-to-head over Boyd this season.  Others with notable accomplishments include Jacob Bueno of St. John Bosco and Dylan Wallace of Santiago who are both returning California state qualifiers, defending Nevada state champion Matthew Alejandro of Arbor View, returning Nevada state placer Garrett Wallace of Bishop Gorman, and returning Arizona state placer Mario Neblina of Cibola.

Once again, we have a clear favorite at 170.  Two-time returning California state placer and last year’s state finalist Anthony Mantanona of Palm Desert comes in ranked #9 nationally by The Open Mat.  Mantanona is well known for his open, exciting style of wrestling.  As he makes his career debut at this year’s Battle for the Belt, look for him to put on a show.  Just be careful not to blink as fast falls are Mantanona’s specialty.  There are two wrestlers in the field who may be able to compete with Mantanona.  The first is defending Nevada state champion Joey Mazzara of Bishop Gorman (Nevada).  Coming into the tournament, Mazzara is the reigning Battle for the Belt champion at 170 pounds.  He could face some stiff competition in his quest to return to the finals, however, in the form of Sultana’s Joey Griego.  Griego was a state qualifier as a sophomore and carried a high ranking late into his junior year before it was cut short by injury.  Griego most definitely has the wrestling pedigree to challenge for a spot in the championship finals.  Defending San Diego Section champion Celso Silva of Poway, returning Arizona state placer Jordan Wilson of Chandler, returning Nevada state placer Dominic Paulos of Faith Lutheran, along with returning California state qualifiers Pablo Perez of San Ysidro and Jean-Paul Bosnoyani of Mira Costa round out the rest of a competitive field at 170 pounds.

A pair of Nevada state champions will look to contend for the Belt at this wide-open weight class.  They include Victor Torrez-Parra of Del Sol and Robert Razo of Green Valley.  Another serious contender for the Title Belt is sophomore standout and returning state qualifier Ryan Cosio of Temecula Valley.  Poway’s Nathan Tausch could also be in the running for an appearance in the championship finals.  Others to watch at this weight include William DeBoer (Frontier), Dylan Turkowski (Sultana), Nathan Smith (Etiwanda), Ryan Hubbs (Santiago), Jimmy Klink (San Clemente), Cameron VanDyke (Palm Desert), and Judson Sweany (Vacaville).

A pair of returning California state medalists appear to be on a collision course at 195 pounds.  Danny Salas of St. John Bosco is a two-time state placer and is coming off a finals appearance at the Doc B just last weekend.  Sophomore star Ryan Reyes of Clovis West placed at the state meet in his freshman campaign and has recorded impressive performances at both the Reno TOC as well as the Doc B.  Don’t overlook Pine Creek’s Garrett Niel who is a defending Colorado state champion.  Niel will look to improve on his fourth place finish at last year’s Battle for the Belt.  A trio of returning state qualifiers out of the Southern Section Masters may also have what it takes to walk away with the Belt.  They include Yucaipa’s Arick Lopez, Santiago’s Brayden Ray, and San Clemente’s Kyle Marshall who boasts a head-to-head win over Reyes of Clovis West this season.  Others who will contend for medals include Emmitt Brooks of Chaparral, Noah Lossing of St Joseph, and returning state qualifier Mark Halajian of Clovis North.

The Belt is up for grabs at 220 where a handful of returning state qualifiers along with a couple of returning Arizona state placers and a returning Nevada state placer will battle it out to see who takes home the Title Belt.  A trio of Southern Section Masters placers who will vye for the Belt are Sam Aguilar of Sultana, David Aranda of St. John Bosco, and Dominick Urena of Elsinore.  Until recently, Urena had the strongest resume of the three, but Aranda and Aguilar were both able to place at the Doc B where Urena was not.  Placing ahead of all of them was returning state qualifier out of the Central Section John Halajian of Clovis North.  At the Doc B, Halajian was able to bolster his resume by earning head-to-head victories over both Aranda as well as Urena.  Other returning state qualifiers in the field include Vacaville’s Zac Myers who was third in the Sac-Joaquin Section a year ago along with Anthony Perez of Exeter who qualified for state out of the Central Section.  Sam Pepper of Chandler is a returning Arizona state placer while Cibola’s Tommy Mommer is a defending Arizona state champion and NHSCA Sophomore All-American.  Returning Nevada state placer Cameron Cox of Faith Lutheran should be in the mix for a medal as should Esperanza’s Jon Sutherland and James Logan’s Lazaro Carrasco.

As is so often the case, medal contention in the heavyweight division will be up for grabs.  With that said, if one of those contenders wants a shot at the Belt, they will have to go through returning California state medalist Jake Levengood of Vacaville.  Levengood finished fifth at last year’s Battle for the Belt at 220 pounds before he capped off his sophomore season by claiming a Sac-Joaquin Section title, then placing fifth at the state meet the following week.  This year Levengood has made the jump to the heavyweight division.  It seems like this is probably a good move for an athlete who wrestles at a school that has often been referred to as “Heavyweight High”.  Looking to challenge Levengood for the Belt will be returning Arizona state placer Harold Colbert of Chandler along with returning California state qualifiers Nathan Holloway of Clovis North, Austin Gillham of Sultana, and Gabe Herrera of Palm Desert.

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