Oakdale’s Ceasar Garza, Whitney’s Leah Brown Lead The Way As 20 Different Programs Are Represented In SportStars’ Fourth Annual All-NorCal Wrestling Honors •
PICTURED ABOVE: Leah Brown of Whitney-Rocklin (Ike Dodson photo)
The return of wrestling was a resounding success for many of the grapplers represented by SportStars’ NorCal coverage. Some shined a little more than others on their way to All-NorCal Wrestler recognition.
After three days of the combined Boys-Girls CIF Wrestling Championships at Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield, 73 Northern California wrestlers found their way onto a CIF medal podium, and eight of them came away with gold.
And once again, NorCal girls stole the show.
Forty-four NorCal girls took home medals (boys had 29), while girls also outnumbered boys champions, 6-2.
Below is a look at the top performers from the CIF championships, and four recipients of special “Most Valuable Wrestler” and “Breakout Wrestler” recognition.
Note: SportStars NorCal coverage includes the Central Coast, North Coast, Sac-Joaquin, Northern, Oakland and San Francisco sections.
GIRLS MOST VALUABLE WRESTLER
Leah Brown, Sr., Whitney-Rocklin (SJS)
The 150-pound senior sensation enjoyed a dream season that culminated with the first state championship in Whitney’s 19-year history (in any sport). She was a perfect 30-0 and pinned every opponent she faced. That technically added up to 29 pins, since she won by decision against Gregori’s Mikayla Lancaster in the CIF semifinals, but had also pinned Lancaster the week prior. Brown is headed to the University of Cumberlands to continue her wrestling career.
BOYS MOST VALUABLE WRESTLER
Ceasar Garza, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)
One of just two champions in the boys brackets, Garza earns status as our “Most Valuable Wrestler” for his tenacious hunt for elite competition. His record is loaded with state medal winners (and not just Californians) and he lost only one match to California competition this year. It’s the same wrestler who won the 182-pound bracket at state, Buchanan’s Joseph Martin. That match was decided in overtime. Garza is bound for Michigan State after two CIF medals in his last two seasons on the mat.
GIRLS BREAKOUT WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
Kaiulani Garcia, So., Gilroy
Our only wrestler not also listed below, Garcia was bested in the CIF finals by Kalila Shrive of West-Tracy, but she’s the only underclassman in the girls brackets to see a match under the famed state spotlight. She was a Super 32 champion with spectacular national prestige and would have very likely medaled last year, if not for a cancelled postseason. She will be a serious gold medal favorite next year.
BOYS BREAKOUT WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
Sam Hinojosa, Jr., Stagg-Stockton (SJS)
The lowest seed among CIF boys to make the state finals was incredible in the biggest moments of his season. A week after stunning medal favorite Manny Zavala of Sierra, 15th CIF seed Hinojosa boarded the upset train once again. He pinned No. 2 seed and Central Section champ Javier Martinez of Dinuba, edged out No. 7 seed Andrew Prado of Mayfair 3-0, and bested Aiden Roe of De La Salle-Concord 2-1 in the state semifinals. Considering Hinojosa didn’t even start wrestling this year until the Tim Brown Memorial Classic on Jan. 14, he defines what it means to be a “Breakout Wrestler.”
ALL-CIF CHAMPIONSHIPS TEAM
101 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Abbeygael Cabaug, Jr., Sobrato-Mogan Hill (CCS)
The World Challenge champion and 2020 CIF medalist (eighth) won the Central Coast Section, aiding Sobrato’s push to a program record four titles (boys and girls). A week later, Cabaug went 4-2 at state to finish fourth. Critical decision win over Brenda Nunez of Buchanan-Clovis and Avy Perez of Birmingham-LA guaranteed her top-four finish.
106 POUNDS (BOYS)
Isaiah Cortez, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)
The first of two CCS sibling honorees is Gilroy’s freshman sensation at 106. He won the CCS to preserve his undefeated record, and lost only once at state, 3-1 to eventual champion Isaiah Quintero of El Dorado. Cortez beat Poway’s Edwin Sierra 3-1 in the third-place match to become the top NorCal finisher at state.
106 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Mikayla Garcia, So., James Logan-Union City (NCS)
The North Coast Section champion was a top-25 national ranked wrestler (National Wrestling Hall of Fame), and she delivered at the state tournament. Representing one of NorCal’s premier girls wrestling programs, Garcia beat NCS runner-up Valeria Ahamada in the CIF quarters to lock up a medal. She also pinned Cynthia Meza of Calaveras in the fifth-place match to finish best among NorCal girls.
111 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Nya Valencia, Sr., Sobrato (CCS)
Bound for Iowa on a wrestling scholarship, Valencia followed her unseeded 2020 state championship with a second-place finish in 2022. The CCS champion won three matches by pin to reach the bracket finals, where she slipped 5-2 to Southern Section champ Anaya Falcon of Walnut.
113 POUNDS (BOYS)
Elijah Cortez, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)
Isaiah’s twin brother was equally special at state. He followed titles at Five Counties, Mid Cals, and the CCS championships with a 6-1 stanza in Bakersfield. He beat Ray Ray Harris of Buchanan 3-0 to finish third. The Cortez brothers are evidence of a massive upswing of young talent for Gilroy coach Daniel Cormier.
116 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Isabella Ngo, Sr., Dixon (SJS)
Ngo’s 1-0 defeat to eventual state champion Arieana Arias of Selma was the lone blemish on a spectacular season and a drastic improvement from her 1-2 outing at state two years ago. This year, Ngo won the SJS and opened her state bracket with three straight first-round pins. She nabbed a fourth such fall to reach the bronze-medal match, where she edged out the No. 1 seed and Southern Section champion, Carissa Qureshi of Portola.
120 POUNDS (BOYS)
Bryce Luna, So., St. Francis-Mountain View (CCS)
The CCS champion and NHSCA Frosh Nationals place winner was fourth at the CIF tournament. He locked up a state medal with narrow decisions in back-to-back championship rounds and beat Buchanan’s Cisco Cabrera in the consolation semifinals to make the third-place match, where he finished fourth.
121 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Elena Ivaldi, Jr., Del Oro-Loomis (SJS)
Our breakout wrestler from 2020 improved upon her third-place finish that year by winning one of the best brackets at state in 2022 and edging out fellow SJS stalwart Lillian Avalos of Pitman-Turlock in back-to-back weekend finales. Ivaldi is among the top nationally ranked wrestlers, and proved it with three pins at state before a 6-4 win in the semifinals and an 8-2 victory in the finals.
126 POUNDS (BOYS)
Aden Valencia, So., Sobrato (CCS)
A 6-5 loss to Chaminade’s Zeth Romney is all that kept Valencia from the CIF finals. He won three other matches decided by four or fewer points and dominated his other matches. Valencia was third at state, first in the CCS, and first at Mid Cals after a late start to his season (injury). Valencia is committed to Cal Poly.
126 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Jennifer Soto, Sr., Gilroy (CCS)
The former Orland star and bronze medal winner from the U15 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, wrapped up her sensational prep career at Gilroy with a third CIF title. She could have been a four-time winner, if not for the COVID-stymied season in 2021. Soto has been recruited by Iowa and made an official visit in 2021.
131 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Alexia Bensoussan, Sr., Menlo-Atherton-Atherton (CCS)
The third state champion in Menlo-Atherton history won her title after a second CCS championship. At state, third-seeded Bensoussan unloaded a 17-2 shellacking on No. 2 seed Hannah Ripper of Miramonte-Orinda in the 131 semifinals. She then beat Veloria Pannell of Los Gatos 5-2 in the finals. Bensoussan’s other matches were all first-round pins, including one in just 20 seconds.
132 POUNDS (BOYS)
Damion Elliott, Sr., Del Oro (SJS)
The Oregon State commit didn’t repeat his runner-up finish from 2020, but he capped a tremendous career with a second state medal (sixth). Elliott was a three-time SJS finalist, two-time SJS champion, and won seven tournaments on his return trip to state. Elliott thrived at a time when others were struggling to get mat time.
137 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Taydem Khamjoi, Jr., Chavez-Stockton (SJS)
After winning the SJS, Khamjoi was upset at state by eventual CIF runner-up Stephanie Chavez of Downey in the second round. It forced a difficult path through the consolation bracket, but Khamjoi pinned five consecutive opponents to reach the bronze-medal match where she ended fourth. Her 30-second pin in the consolation quarterfinals was one of the fastest of the tournament.
138 POUNDS (BOYS)
Ethan Parco, So., Los Gatos (CCS)
Parco’s first CIF postseason was a triumphant one. The frosh nationals fourth-place finisher from 2021 carried a CCS title and a big win over Gilroy’s Donte Lopez into state. After losing to eventual state champ Michael Gioffre of Buchanan, Parco won three huge matches to guarantee a medal. He also closed his tournament with a 6-3 win over Vacaville’s Eric Almarinez in the fifth-place match to lock up honors as NorCal’s best.
143 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Alana Ontiveros, Jr., Pitman-Turlock (SJS)
Ontiveros went 5-1 at state with three pins, and an 11-1 point spread in decision wins in consolation. She finished third in the CIF and first in the SJS after three pins in that bracket as well. Even with former teammate, national star and Cadet World bronze medalist Lilly Freitas now at Wyoming Seminary, Ontiveras and Avalos helped Pitman finish as the No. 8 team at state.
145 POUNDS (BOYS)
Clemente Holguin, So., Sobrato (CCS)
Despite unseeded entry into the CCS tournament, Holguin won five straight matches to snare the section title. A week later, he used his No. 9 seed at state to send Vacaville’s Ethan Birch to the consolation bracket. He made his own trip down a round later after falling 7-1 to state champ Miguel Estrada of Frontier. A 4-2 win over Clayton Valley-Concord’s Andre Dargini gave Holguin access to his eighth-place medal.
150 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Leah Brown, Sr., Whitney (SJS)
The All-NorCal Most Valuable Wrestler was a postseason superstar. She won the SJS with four straight pins and went 5-0 at state to cap her dominant season. Brown was untouchable all year and proved she could stay that way when it mattered most. She will wrestle for a chance to represent the US at World Team Trials in May.
152 POUNDS (BOYS)
Gavin Fernandez, Jr., De La Salle (NCS)
One of the best weight classes in the NCS was ruled by Casey Aikman of Ukiah at Masters, but third-place Hernandez stole the show at state. He won five huge matches in consolation to steal the top NorCal finish and fourth in California. His biggest win was a 7-5 upset of No. 4 seed Devyn Che of Calvary Chapel.
160 POUNDS (BOYS)
Carlos Garcia, So., Oakdale (SJS)
Garcia hadn’t won a tournament until the postseason, but he exploded through section and state matches with superb poise under pressure. He won the SJS and three monster matches in the CIF consolation bracket to take home an eighth-place medal. He will be one of the biggest names in next year’s postseason thanks to his heroics in this one.
160 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Kalila Shrive, Jr., West (SJS)
The eighth-place CIF medalist from 2020 was perfect at state, and won her bracket by edging out Kaiulani Garcia of Gilroy in overtime in the finale. The SJS champion won every other match by pin or major decision. She stuck fifth-place Sophia Yukovich of Liberty Brentwood in only 50 seconds in the semifinals.
170 POUNDS (BOYS)
Ceasar Garza, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)
Our Most Valuable Wrestler was brilliant from start to finish this year. Garza took his second SJS title in Stockton and preserved his No. 1 seed at state with three pins, a major decision in the CIF semifinals and a 2-1 win over Central Section champion Sergio Montoya of Clovis North in the CIF finals.
170 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Haley Gumpfer, Sr., Casa Roble-Orangevale (SJS)
A week after leading Casa Roble to the SJS team title with her gold medal finish at Masters, Gumpfer became a surprise CIF finalist when she pinned her first four opponents at state. Her 1:29 fall over SS runner-up Angelina Renteria pushed her into the title match, where she finished second to SS champ Mariyah Casados of Vista Murrieta.
182 POUNDS (BOYS)
Cade Creighton, Sr., Palo Alto (CCS)
Also considered for “best wrestling name” recognition, Creighton went 5-2 at state to finish fifth. The No. 8 seed edged out No. 5 Tyler Hodges of Clovis to lock up a top-six finish and stuck Yucaipa’s Diego Costa in only 30 seconds in the last match of his season. In a recruiting whirlwind at this weight Hodges and CIF top-12 Wesley Wilson of Morro Bay have committed to Cal Poly. Creighton initially committed to Cal Poly before switching up and choosing the University of Chicago.
189 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Samantha Calkins, Sr., Liberty-Brentwood (NCS)
A serious candidate for Most Valuable Wrestler, Calkins is one of the best in the country, and was listed No. 16 on the pound-for-pound National Rankings by USA Wrestling. She proved that prestige at state with five straight wins, including four pins and a 4-2 decision in the semifinals. The NCS champion pinned Schurr-Montebello’s Galilea Garcia in the state finals.
195 POUNDS (BOYS)
Cody Merrill, So., Gilroy (CCS)
NorCal’s lone underclass state champion was a real candidate for both Breakout Wrestler of the Year and Most Valuable Wrestler, after bagging a title in his first attempt. The decorated national talent won seven tournaments, including the Reno TOC, Five Counties, Mid Cals and the CCS. At state, he managed four first-round pins, took a 17-4 major decision, and shut out SS Champ Sonny Kling 5-0 in the finals.
220 POUNDS (BOYS)
Donn Greer, Sr., Soledad (CCS)
Greer matched his No. 7 seed with a 4-2 run at state and the same spot on the medal podium. He edged out No. 8 seed David Osuna of Clovis West to earn his medal, which he locked up by pinning Mathias Sorensen of San Marcos. Greer was also the CCS champion.
235 POUNDS (GIRLS)
Annika Miles, Sr., Elk Grove (SJS)
Miles entered the prep season at the last possible moment, but still managed an undefeated run up until the state finals, where she lost just 1-0 to SS champion Neila Fritts (Capistrano Valley). Miles was also fifth at state in 2020.
285 POUNDS (BOYS)
Sam Hinojosa, Jr., Stagg (SJS)
Our Breakout Wrestler of the Year was a remarkable talent that was nearly unknown entering the year, but delivered almost unbelievable postseason victories on his road to the CIF finals. Though his season ended with a pin by top seed and Southern Section champ Daniel Herrera (Palm Desert), Hinojosa reached the gold-medal match with five consecutive victories, three of them significant upsets.