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STARS OF OUR SHOW | NorCal Wrestling Postseason Preview STARS OF OUR SHOW | NorCal Wrestling Postseason Preview
We Take A Glance At Every Weight Class As The NorCal Wrestling Postseason Grind Arrives — CIF Contenders, Upset Threats & More • PICTURED... STARS OF OUR SHOW | NorCal Wrestling Postseason Preview

We Take A Glance At Every Weight Class As The NorCal Wrestling Postseason Grind Arrives — CIF Contenders, Upset Threats & More •

PICTURED ABOVE: Franklin-Elk Grove Senior Ammar Khan Is A CIF Medal Contender At 145s. (Ike Dodson photo)

Load up the RV with hot dogs and headgear, because the NorCal wrestling postseason is upon us.

Saturday’s 9 a.m. opening rounds of the Sac-Joaquin Section Team Duals Wrestling Tournament mark the beginning of a wild month of wrestling.

After the best team dual teams in the SJS vie for coveted banners, individuals will be desperately seeking to advance to the next stage of the playoffs, with elimination always lingering.

Nothing is guaranteed.

A little too much fluid the night before weigh-ins, or falling into a bad draw in consolation, can end it all so quickly.

Every little moment matters, and Saturday’s SJS action at Lincoln-Stockton matters much to the likes of Vacaville and Oakdale, who split each of the last two Div. I finals at Team Duals.


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Vacaville, who won last year’s showdown 41-19, can tie Ponderosa-Shingle Springs with 24 team dual titles if the Bulldogs win it all this year.

The SJS, which sends six boys to state, represents half of NorCal’s seeds in Bakersfield (not counting potential qualifiers from Oakland and San Francisco sections). The Central Coast Section (like the Northern and North Coast sections) sends two per weight, but the CCS also has the highest chances for CIF gold.

As the postseason looms, we took a close look at NorCal’s top wrestlers in each weight, separating them into serious state medal contenders, ones you should never count out, and even those primed for upsets.

That list is included below:


NorCal Wrestling Postseason Preview, Zack Hoover, Laguna Creek
Zack Hoover. (Ike Dodson photos)

Zack Hoover, So., Laguna Creek-Elk Grove (SJS)
Siraj Sidhu, Fr., Del Oro-Loomis (SJS)
Dominic Bozanic, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)
Manuel Martir, Jr., De La Salle-Concord (NCS)
Elijah Almarinez, So., Vacaville (SJS)
Nathan Granados, So., Merced (SJS)

Zeke Hernandez, Fr., Oakdale (SJS)
Alex Portugal, Fr., Elk Grove (SJS)
Diego Barajas, Jr., St. Francis-Mountain View (CCS)
Alex Mallot, So., Ponderosa (SJS)
Kai Yi-Berg, Fr., Folsom (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: NorCal has serious talent at this weight class. After two wins at state last year, Hoover has enjoyed a stellar sophomore season with resurgent Laguna Creek, with just two losses to stalwarts from Clovis and Buchanan. He’s currently ranked No. 7 in the state by the California Wrestling Newsletter and just won Gilroy’s MidCals. Freshmen Sidhu and Bozanic have enjoyed breakout seasons and have serious potential to win section and state hardware. 

READY TO UPSET: Yi-berg. He’s approaching 30 wins, is a key part of a rising Folsom squad, has excellent training partners and was a medal winner at the Sierra Nevada Classic. He could have a good showing at SJS Masters.


Moses Mondoza, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)
Antonio Rodriguez, Fr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Kekoa Madayag, Sr., Novato (NCS)

Christian Perez, Fr., Del Oro (SJS)
Caleb Tetad, Jr., De La Salle (NCS)
Octovio Negrette, Jr., Elk Grove (SJS)
Kekoa Ogawa, So., Central Catholic-Modesto (SJS)
Ethan Ward, Sr., Turlock (SJS)
Elijah Valencia, Jr., Merced (SJS)
Logan Thomas, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)
Hayden Archeta, Sr., Monta Vista-Cupertino (CCS)

BOTTOM LINE: Mondoza exploded onto the scene at 113 with titles at Five Counties and the Doc Buchanan to become a state champion favorite at his weight. Rodriguez, ranked third in the state, makes Mondoza’s CCS Masters bracket pretty much a dead end for everyone else (only two qualify for state). Rodriguez was runner-up to Mondoza at the Doc Buchanan. The SJS Masters tourney should be ultra competitive.

READY TO UPSET: Though he lost two matches at MidCals, Ogawa is part of a dynamite group of Central Catholic lightweights, and could heat up as he settles more comfortably into the weight class after dropping from 120. He was third at Five Counties and has big win potential.


Eziequel Vela, Oakdale
Eziequel Vela.

Isaiah Cortez, So., Gilroy (CCS)
Tommy Holguin, Fr., Sobrato-Morgan Hill (CCS)
Eziequel Vela, Jr., Oakdale (SJS)
Micah Viloria, So., West-Tracy (SJS)

Tanner Stone, Sr., Oakmont-Roseville (SJS)
Dustin Merlos, Sr., Gregori-Modesto(SJS)
Chase Manski, Jr., Folsom (SJS)
EJ Sheeran, Fr., St. Mary’s-Stockton (SJS)
Mark Justin Ramirez, Sr., Fremont-Sunnyvale (CCS)
Julian Sanchez, Jr., Ponderosa (SJS)
Hunter Ludwig, Sr., Sutter (SJS)
Nicholas Bulganin, Jr., Elk Grove (SJS)
Abraham Granados, Sr., Merced (SJS)
Arthur Parra, Jr., Hollister (CCS)

BOTTOM LINE: Cortez is ranked first in the state after a huge tourney win at the Doc Buchanan, still sporting only one career loss at the prep level. Holguin should take the other CCS seed to state, with medal potential. The SJS field is loaded with solid contenders to make state, and Ludwig could become Sutter’s first wrestler to do that since the Huskies joined the section this year.

READY TO UPSET: Stone has experience and savvy, wrestles tough and could win some upsets on his postseason path this year. He was third at the Joe Rios Tournament and the Tim Brown, and should string together wins at Masters.


NorCal Wrestling, Ryan Espiritu, Benicia
Ryan Espiritu.

Bryce Luna, Jr., St Francis (CCS)
Elijah Cortez, So., Gilroy (CCS)
Victor Alexander Gutierrez, Fr., Central Catholic (SJS)
Ryan Espíritu, So., Benicia (NCS)
Casey Roberts, Sr., Vacaville (SJS)
Issac Herrera, Sr., Del Oro-Loomis (SJS)
Carlos Vazquez, Jr., De La Salle (NCS)

Austin Fredrickson, Sr., Windsor (NCS)
Jesse Meza, Fr., Oakdale (SJS)
Kaden Obien, Jr., West Park-Roseville (SJS)
Kaden Martinez, Ponderosa (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: Cortez and Luna have split matches this year, and the CCS Masters winner will earn the better seed to state. Espíritu has been a sensation of late (third at MidCals, second at Tim Brown) and will hope to double-down on his MidCals win over Vazquez in the NCS finals. Expect big things from Central Catholic’s Gutierrez at the SJS Masters, though he defaulted from MidCals with an injury.

READY TO UPSET: West Park’s Obien, the first state qualifier in school history. He will look for more postseason magic this year, and he’s ultra tough in the third round of matches. He could add “first two-time CIF qualifier” to his resume with another year to go.


NorCal Wrestling, Turlock, Jeremiah Bertalotto
Jeremiah Bertalotto, right.

Daniel Zepeda, So., Gilroy (CCS)
Aden Valencia, Jr., Sobrato (CCS)
Josh Hannan, Sr., Arcata (NCS)
Jager French, Jr., Del Oro (SJS)

Jeremiah Bertalotto, Jr., Turlock (SJS)
Robert Lopez, Sr., West (SJS)
Peter Bowen, Sr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Atri Fiezi, Sr., De La Salle (NCS)
Ahmaad Lewis, Sr., Franklin-Elk Grove (SJS)
Josiah Laird, Sr., Grace Davis-Modesto (SJS)
Elijah Montez, Sr., Central Catholic (SJS)
Quasi Marini, Jr., Vacaville (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: Zepeda is the third of four Gilroy wrestlers ranked No. 1 in California. He picked up the designation by handing Valencia his only loss of the year in a sudden-victory round on his path to the Doc Buchanan finals. A rematch on the biggest stage at state is possible. 

READY TO UPSET: Fiezi is a two-time state qualifier who missed much of the season before his fourth-place finish at MidCals. He will be a serious contender for the NCS title and could rely on his postseason experience to make some noise at state after De La Salle likely wins the NCS team championship.


Moses Mirabal, Jr., Gilroy (CCS)
Timothy Murabito, Jr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Matthew Luna, So., St. Francis (CCS)
Jonathon Hernandez, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)
Jayson Victoria, Jr., Granada-Livermore (NCS)

Alias Raby, Fr., West Valley-Cottonwood (NS)
David Ruskin, Sr., Chico (NS)
Alex Talamante, Sr., Pitman-Turlock (SJS)
Isaiah Bertalotto, Jr., Pitman (SJS)
Qusai Marini, Jr., Vacaville (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: This is another really strong weight class for the CCS. Because of that, a wrestler ranked in the top 15 in California is going to miss state tourney qualification, unless someone moves up or down. Luna, the third of those ranked wrestlers, is going to be really tough to eliminate. Hernandez is a former SJS champion, but dropped from the Tim Brown finals with a leg injury. Oakdale coach Steve Strange said the injury was not as severe as it appeared. Hernandez should return to challenge for another section title.

READY TO UPSET: Two Northern Section wrestlers should represent one of the stronger weights in the section this postseason, and should be poised to impress at state. Raby has just three losses this year, and placed third at the Tim Brown, despite being unseeded. He could represent the north well in Bakersfield in his freshman season.


Ammar Khan, Franklin
Ammar Khan.

Ethan Parco, Jr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Maxximus Martinez, Sr., Gilroy (CCS)
Max Wise, Sr., Foothill-Pleasanton (NCS)
Ammar Khan, Sr., Franklin-Elk Grove (SJS)
Gavin Smith, Sr., Chico (NS)
Anthony Berg, Jr., Whitney-Rocklin (SJS)
Colton Silva, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)

Cameron Isenogle, Sr., Vista del Lago-Folsom (SJS)
Quintin Maldonado, Jr., Stagg-Stockton (SJS)
Paul Johnson, So., Liberty Ranch-Galt (SJS)
Dakota Stephens, Sr., Bret Harte-Angels Camp (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: This is a real strong weight class for NorCal, with two serious state title challengers in Parco (No. 2) and Martinez (No. 4), both former CIF medal winners. Wise is primed for his first state medal as well at No. 8. Khan was undefeated for Franklin until ending runner-up at MidCals. He landed perhaps the most impressive throw of the Tim Brown with a huge toss of Berg in the bracket finale. Berg came on strong in the third period, but Khan held on to win.

READY TO UPSET: Stephens has a host of national experience for small school Bret Harte, and though he’s in a tough weight class, should be stout in the 2023 postseason. He’s chasing the lore of the last state place winner for Bret Harte, older brother Kodiak Stephens (now wrestling at Oregon State).


Gavin Fernandez, Sr., De La Salle (NCS)
Arjun Nagra, Jr., Vacaville (SJS)
Brodie Johnson, So., Oakdale (SJS)

Henry Baalman, Sr., Dublin (NCS)
Jojo Andrade, Sr., Palma-Salinas (CCS)
Brokton Borelli, So., Los Banos (SJS)
Anthony Pavlov-Ramirez, Sr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Zack Fierro, Sr., Gilroy (CCS)
Noah Daniels, Fr., Sheldon-Elk Grove (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: Last year’s CIF medalist (fourth), Fernandez is the class of NorCal here. His only losses (four of them), were all decisions within six or fewer points. He is De La Salle’s best shot at a state title and one of the top wrestlers in all of the NCS. After a top-12 finish at state last year, Nagra is a heavy SJS title favorite with a stellar list of junior season wins.

READY TO UPSET: Five of the wrestlers in the “don’t count out” list above wrestled at MidCals. They wrestled extremely tight matches against each other, with Baalman, Andrade, Borelli and Pavlov-Ramirez finishing in that order in the consolation bracket (Fierro defaulted out at 145). Borelli has increased his prestige at consecutive tournaments and could be a big problem at SJS Masters, but Baalman is experienced and tough, and could upset at state after challenging Fernandez in the NCS.


NorCal Wrestling, Shaiden Carr, Oak Ridge, Payne Perkins, Oakdale
Shaiden Carr, left, and Payne Perkins.

Dylan Pile, So., Los Gatos (CCS)
Travis Grace, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)
Larry Borelli, Jr., Los Banos (SJS)
Shaiden Carr, Sr., Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills (SJS)
Payne Perkins, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)

Christian Pebley, Jr., Ponderosa (SJS)
Carter Vannest, Fr., Pitman (SJS)
Nicholas Perez, Jr., Hughson (SJS)
Fazal Mohammed, Sr., Kimball-Tracy (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: You have to love the underclass CCS talent in Pile and Grace, who haven’t wrestled each other in prep action, but should deliver a thriller of a section final on Feb. 18. The rest of the prestige in NorCal lies in the SJS, where fans will anticipate a potential rematch (semifinals) between Carr and Perkins. The Oakdale senior appeared primed to win the Tim Brown, until three consecutive cradles from Carr overcame a massive deficit and gave the Trojan wrestler a come-from-behind victory.

READY TO UPSET: Mohammed bumped up to 170 for the Tim Brown and gave Oakdale stalwart Carlos Garcia a terrific challenge. If he wrestles like that in the 160 bracket at Masters, he could surprise the field.


Carlos Garcia, Jr., Oakdale (SJS)
Micah Porter, Sr., Gilroy (CCS)
Mason Ontiveros, Fr., Pitman (SJS)

Ryan Clink, Jr., Chico (NS)
Logan Bruce, So., Maria Carrillo-Santa Rosa (NCS)
Raymond Fernandez, Sr., Los Banos (SJS)
Juan Carlos Meza, Jr., Calaveras (SJS)
Grant Anderson, Jr., Jesuit-Carmichael (SJS)
Cameron Gott, Sr., Ponderosa (SJS)
Kaewett Nelson, Jr., Hoopa Valley (NCS)

BOTTOM LINE: Garcia is on the hunt for his second state medal, and will desperately need to secure the top SJS seed from Masters to be on a path to the podium at state. He will face a deep squad of talent, including Ontiveros, who beat his 182-pound teammate, Wes Burford, in a 15-5 match in Ceres.

READY TO UPSET: Nelson lost just 5-3 to Bakersfield talent Kai Vasquez, and has won three tournaments this season. He could go on a tear to win the NCS title, if he can overcome the likes of Bruce. Clink has a pin victory over Oakdale’s Perkins, and should be stout at state as well. He’s 1-1 against Bruce.


Levi Bussey, Granite Bay
Levi Bussey, top.

Thomas Sandoval, Jr., Vacaville (SJS)
Levi Bussey, So., Granite Bay (SJS)
Oscar Alfaro, Sr., Gilroy (CCS)
Scott Beadles, Jr., Calaveras (SJS)

Bradlee Shaw, Sr., Chico (NS)
Wes Burford, Fr., Oakdale (SJS)
David Calkins, Fr., Liberty-Brentwood (NCS)
Juan Carlos Escuita, Sr., Palma (CCS)

BOTTOM LINE: Sandoval has only one loss and a win over CA No. 1 and returning state runner-up Tye Monteiro of Bakersfield. The Oregon State-bound star is Vacaville’s best wrestler and will be huge in advancing team hopes for a sixth straight Masters title. Bussey was terrific in winning the Tim Brown, and should contend for a SJS finals appearance.

READY TO UPSET: It’s surprising to see freshmen listed in this core group of eight, but don’t be surprised to see big postseason wins from both Calkins and Burford. They both have big wins against good and experienced opponents, and are only getting better themselves.


Kainoa Acia, Sr., Del Oro (SJS)
Ben Vega-Sanchez, Sr., Foothill-Palo Cedro (NS)
Jayden Gosal, Jr., Kennedy-Sacramento (NCS)
Coby Merrill, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)

Elias Corona, Jr., Oakdale (SJS)
Oleksandr Nyzhnyk, Jr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Evan Daley, Sr., Redwood-Larkspur (NCS)

BOTTOM LINE: Merrill’s freestyle national champion prestige has earned him contention status, but he still hasn’t wrestled this season. He could explode into the postseason or fall short of those high expectations after awaiting valuable prep experience. Acia was absent from last year’s postseason, and will look to make his first ever trek to state a good one. Don’t sleep on Vega-Sanchez, who was fourth at state last year and has serious big win potential, against anyone. He pinned Gosal in the MidCals finals.

READY TO UPSET: Even in a loss to state No. 6 Keanu Trelles of Buchanan in the Tim Brown finals, Corona showed good toughness and aggressiveness. There is enough flexibility in this weight for Corona to deliver big when it is needed most.


Cody Merrill, Jr., Gilroy (CCS)
Nolan Frank, Sr., Elk Grove (SJS)
Achilles Clarke, Sr., Pitman (SJS)
Ryan Jaleel, Sr., Vallejo (NCS)
Stefan Bakiev, Sr., De La Salle (NCS)
James Aken, Sr., American Canyon (NCS)
Jackson Ramos, Sr., Vista del Lago-Folsom (SJS)

Joseph Ellis, Jr., Vintage-Napa (NCS)
Cody McIntosh, Sr., Trinity -Weaverville(NS)
Emilio Johnson, Jr., Oakdale (SJS)
Enzo Mezoui, Sr., Folsom (SJS)
Marco Silva, Sr., Greenfield (CCS)
Jake Hall, Sr., Oak Ridge (SJS)
Om Shastri, Sr., Los Gatos (CCS)
Jai guerra, Sr., Vacaville (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: NorCal wrestlers are going to win some CIF hardware at this weight. It’s a guarantee, and not just because of returning state champion, Cody Merrill. The NCS is loaded here, which is unfortunate for two of the four section wrestlers listed (NCS has two seeds to state). Frank is ranked No. 8 in CA, but he has to recover from a leg injury sustained in the Tim Brown finals.

READY TO UPSET: Though he’s listed among the top contenders and is listed as No. 10 in the state, this spot has to be reserved for Clarke, because his ceiling is even higher than that. Clarke won two matches at state last year, has won five tournaments, placed at the Doc Buchanan and could win the SJS this year. He’s the real deal, and could find a podium spot in Bakersfield.


Sam Hinojosa, Stagg, Stockton
Sam Hinojosa.

Sam Hinjosa, Sr., Stagg-Stockton (SJS)
Gerard Marshall, Sr., Hoopa Valley (NCS)
Evan Glines, Sr., Vista Del Lago (SJS)
Declan Follette, Jr., Laguna Creek (SJS)
Jesus Gutierrez, Sr., Sutter (SJS)
Hung Vo, So., Silver Creek-San Jose (CCS)

Kyzer Alabaugh, Sr., Corning (NS)
Frank Bainvalu-Bola, Sr., El Camino-Sacramento (SJS)
Brock Osmundson, Sr., Oakdale (SJS)
Troy Ceja, Fr., Pitman (SJS)
Pablo Lopez, Sr., Vacaville (SJS)
Gabriel Johnson, Sr., Ponderosa (SJS)

BOTTOM LINE: Ten SJS wrestlers are listed here, which shows how difficult the SJS Masters will be. Hinjosa was a surprise state finalist at state last year, and has the potential to win any match. Marshall was top-12 at state last year, and should overwhelm the NCS on his path to state.

READY TO UPSET: Glines has the makings of a state medalist, with terrific conditioning late in matches. He could bag more than one upset on his path to the podium, if he can wrestle at his best when it matters most.

Ike Dodson currently works as an information officer for the California Department of Corrections. Prior to that he was an award-winning journalist with over 14 years of experience writing about the Sac-Joaquin Section.

Ike Dodson

Ike Dodson currently works as an information officer for California Correction Health Care Services. Prior to that he was an award-winning journalist with over 14 years of experience writing about the Sac-Joaquin Section.

  • Abel Colunga

    January 25, 2023 #1 Author

    Great write up. Thanks Ike. Have a great evening.


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