Woodcreek’s Dominic Balmer leads a strong class of SJS heavyweights in 2015
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
Professional fighting’s heavyweight divisions have taken a beating and fallen from past glories with controversy and subpar competition. In high school wrestling, though — and especially in the Sac-Joaquin Section — heavyweights have long been king and still sit at the top of the grappling pecking order.
With six CIF State Champions coming from the section during a 10-year span (2003-2012), SJS big men have had a heavy influence on the top of the podium in Bakersfield. The latest state rankings published by CalGrappler.com have four section wrestlers in its top 14, giving the latest group of Sac-Joaquin heavyweights a great opportunity to continue tradition.
The early bet to finish atop the 285-pound division at the state tournament in March is Woodcreek-Roseville senior Dominic Balmer. The two-sport star — he also plays on the offensive line of the Timberwolves’ football team — was the SJS Masters Champion in 2014 and the section’s highest finisher in Bakersfield, coming in sixth place in his first trip to state last year.
Balmer was building confidence as he defeated opponents on his way to a quarterfinal matchup with defending state champion Nick Nevills of Clovis. A loss by technical fall to Nevills began a downslide of three consecutive losses to finish his 2014 season, but the memory of getting so close and the experience of facing the best wrestlers in the state provide motivation and hope for Balmer.
“Everyone in the room is so gifted, and you know that the best of the best are all there competing,” Balmer said. “It had me in awe, but once it was time to wrestle, I knew I had to get my game face on. I want to get back there.”
Throughout the 2014 season, Balmer was successful, but not dominant. He won the majority of his matches, but did not record a single victory by way of pinning his opponent. Woodcreek coach Byron Miller believes that the extended time on the mat for full six-minute, three-round matches wore his heavyweight down a bit. The coach also believes that close wins by Balmer did not do enough to create an intimidation factor.
“He needs to have the attitude that he can dominate matches,” Miller said. “It is not enough to just win matches.
“If you don’t let opponents stay close, then some are defeated before they even get on the mat if you face them again.”
So, Miller has been preaching attitude and aggression to his star pupil, who is more teddy than grizzly bear with friends, classmates and teammates. His nice, respectful demeanor is a joy to teachers, coaches, and the Woodcreek community, but also a slight disadvantage on the mat.
Balmer took his coach’s advice of being more aggressive to heart for 2015. He nearly took it too far in the Timberwolves’ first tournament of the season. He received two unnecessary roughness penalties/warnings in a match and was nearly disqualified, but regrouped to win the 285-pound division.
Miller and Balmer have worked to balance the aggression with technique, resulting in a majority of matches ending with Balmer pinning his opponent to build his reputation as a dominating force.
“(The coaches) have been great teaching technique and refining my skills,” Balmer said. “It is amazing how even little moves can make a huge difference. Sometimes they offer things that I would never think could make a difference and they end up winning a match.”
Balmer credits his friendly and respectful manner, as well as his athleticism and drive, to his grandfather, Dennis Balmer. Dennis, a former high school two-sport star who pursued baseball in college, played a major role in raising Dominic after taking his young grandson into his home at age 3. Without his biological father present in his life, Dominic looked to Dennis as a father figure and mentor for life and sports.
“He has always been there to push me and has given me my drive,” Dominic said of his grandfather with whom he still lives. “I would not have been near as good of an athlete or person without him.”
The talent and good nature taught by his grandfather have paid dividends with athletic success that has translated into a ticket for the next stage in Dominic Balmer’s life. Upon checking out the Cal State Bakersfield campus last year after the state meet, Dominic gave a verbal commitment to the Roadrunners to continue his wrestling career at the collegiate level.
The entire Balmer family hopes to take an early visit to Dominic’s future home in March as part of a second and final trip to the state tournament.
While Balmer may be a favorite to earn a high place on the podium at the state tournament, he has plenty of local competition to work through before he can even think about making plans for a trip to Bakersfield.
Casa Roble senior Jake Minshew is ranked third among state heavyweights by CalGrappler.com — just one spot below Balmer — and he placed eighth at the 2014 CIF Wrestling Championships. Minshew and Balmer split a pair of matches as juniors — Minshew edged Balmer in the semifinals of the Tim Brown Memorial Tournament while Balmer claimed the Section Masters title with a triple-overtime victory at Stockton Arena. The two are likely to go head-to-head again this year as both are slated to wrestle at the 2015 Tim Brown Memorial (January 23-24 at Sacramento’s Jackson Sports Academy) before going their separate ways until a potential rematch at SJS Masters.
In Sierra Foothill League action, Balmer will face Del Oro senior Saul Meneses, who is currently ranked 12th in California. Vacaville junior Mike McCauley could also be a threat in the heavyweight division much like Bulldogs heavyweights that have preceded him. Of the six recent heavyweight state champs from the SJS, three have come from Vacaville’s tradition-rich stable of wrestlers.
Without the controversy and tarnish associated with professional heavyweight ranks, the state high school heavyweight title is a prestigious and pure pursuit that is attainable for a hard worker like Balmer.
“Our goal is to get him to believe he can win state,” Miller said. “He had a great postseason run last year and I think that he saw what he can do. I believe that he can get it done.”
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