Imperial, Brawley claim CIFSDS wrestling titles
Imperial, Brawley claim CIF-SDS wrestling titles
SAN DIEGO — No two ways about it, Saturday was a gala day for the Imperial Valley Wrestling scene, with not one, but two local schools raking in the hardware at the CIF-SDS finals.
First there was the Tigers of Imperial reaching the summit in the Division IV tournament, bringing home what may turn out to be a program-altering title, and their first under seventh year head coach Mark Benedict.
Then there was Brawley, adding to its historic stack with a 19th consecutive crown in Division III, overcoming a seesaw regular season to thwart any notions of dynastic decline.
Neither team’s trek to the top would qualify as “easy-breezy” — with Imperial’s final margin over rival Holtville being only 12.5 team points (230 to 217.5) and Brawley dogged to a lesser degree by Mt. Carmel (254.5 to 223.5) — but both squads spent most of the afternoon/ evening out at the head of the pack.
Both teams were well-represented on the podiums, with 11 wrestlers medaling (that it, finishing within the top four) for Brawley and nine for Imperial — with an additional two non-medalist placers for Imperial and one for Brawley.
Of those 20 cumulative medals, eight were gold.
Brawley had five in Daniel Moreno (108 pounds), Anthony Maldonado (115 pounds), Preston Brewer (128 pounds), Jose Gutierrez (140 pounds) and Jayden Smith (162 pounds).
Imperial’s three were Naythan Galbiso (108 pounds), Andrew Luna (128 pounds) and Paul Ortiz (162 pounds).
Naturally, post-match feelings were buoyant in both camps.
For Imperial, much of the thrill was in winning the first sectional title of their individual careers.
Ortiz — last seen finishing first at the Holtville Rotary tournament — admitted that his individual win this year (he also won in 2018 as a freshman) was all the sweeter with a team banner attached.
“It feels great, ‘cause I was able to get the job done and help my team to the championship,” he said
He expects the win to boost the Tigers’ overall rep, noting that they haven’t always been considered a powerhouse.
“When it comes to wrestling, we pretty much just showed everybody that we’re here to stay,” he said
Galbiso said he had to fight off nerves ahead of his gold-medal-winning run but knew he “wanted to make sure to get pins for my team, because I know we needed the championship.”
He said he was glad to be “making our city and our school very proud.”
For Brawley, the thrill of winning yet another title was amplified by the trials they had to overcome over the course of the regular season, namely injuries.
First-placer Smith suffered a broken foot and a partially torn tendon in November that cost him a huge chunk of the year.
But he was ready for CIF even though he “barely got back on the mat, just last week.”
Coach Tony Leon said of number 19, “We earned it; we definitely earned it. The kids were hurt most of the season, but they came together in this tournament and wrestled tough.”
Sit out and just wait to heal
For Coach Benedict, win No. 1 represented a culmination a years-long effort, leaving him, “ecstatic.”
“This is something we’ve been working for, for a long time,” he said. “It’s always been our goal. A couple of years we’ve been really close — sometimes second, sometimes third — but the kids have been putting in a lot of effort, working really hard. … It’s an awesome win.”
He credits, consistency and attention to detail for the program’s rise, “We’re not the most flashy. We don’t teach a whole lot of different stuff, but we try to focus on solid wrestling.”
He hopes this is just the beginning. “What it really shows,” he says, “is what we’ve been working on and what we’ve been building. … Everyone in the community will see [that] and want to be a part of it.”
Imperial poses with their championship banner after taking first place at the CIF-SDS Division IV wrestling finals held at St. Augustine High School in San Diego on Saturday. PHOTO AARON BODUS
Brawley shows off their hardware after a first place finish at the CIF-SDS Division III wrestling finals held at Montgomery High.