Gilroy’s Isaiah Cortez, Pitman’s Lilly Avalos Shine Brightest As 37 Different Programs Crack Our Fifth Annual All-NorCal Wrestling Honors •
PICTURED ABOVE: All-NorCal Wrestling Selection At 220 Pounds, Nolan Frank Of Elk Grove High. (Ike Dodson photos)
Our final wrestling story of the 2022-23 season awards special recognition to the best wrestlers across all divisions in Northern California. Welcome to our fifth edition of the All-NorCal Wrestling team.
Regular season and section championship wins are great, but state championship performances were the overwhelming factor in the honors below. And consider it an invitational with expanded brackets, because the wrestling was so good this year, we even added runner-up honors for the first time.
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.
BOYS MOST VALUABLE WRESTLER
ISAIAH CORTEZ, So., Gilroy (CCS)
The Most Valuable Wrestler in NorCal is the one who beat a returning state champion to snatch CIF gold. Cortez went undefeated this season, winning titles at Clovis West, Reno (TOC) and the Doc Buchanan. At state, Cortez didn’t surrender one point. He pinned three straight opponents, and landed an 8-0 major decision over Ray Ray Harris (Buchanan-Clovis) in the semifinals. In the finals, facing the only wrestler to beat him last year, Cortez stayed tough. He used a single point to beat returning state champ Isaiah Quintero of El Dorado-Placentia in the title match.
BOYS BREAKOUT WRESTLER
SCOTTY MOORE, Sr., Branham-San Jose (CCS)
This is an easy call, considering Moore dropped off the prep radar after taking sixth at the state tournament as a freshman. He sustained a serious injury at that 2020 event, and went just 2-2 in the California State Finals during the COVID-shortened season in 2021. Moore missed all of 2022 while recovering from surgery, and most of the 2023 season while lacking motivation to reenter the fray. He saw action in just one regular season tournament, but stayed unbeaten during the four-week postseason to win both a CCS and CIF title. He was seeded just sixth at state.
GIRLS MOST VALUABLE WRESTLER
LILLY AVALOS, Sr., Pitman-Turlock (SJS)
With longtime rival Elana Ivaldi of Del Oro-Loomis not wrestling in the CIF, Avalos quickly became one of the state’s best wrestlers. Her undefeated season included a Napa Valley Classic title and a quick run through the SJS postseason. She was also nearly untouchable at state. She grabbed two first-round pins and a second-round pin to reach the semifinals, where she prevailed 13-6 to make the finals. In the gold medal match, she needed only 1 minute, 19 seconds to pin her way to her first state gold.
GIRLS BREAKOUT WRESTLER
GABBY AUSTIN, So., Pitman (SJS)
After a third-place SJS finish last year and a 2-2 showing at state, few expected Austin to deliver the kind of postseason performance she did. She narrowly lost a thrilling SJS final with eventual state champion Taydem Khamjoi of Cesar Chavez-Stockton to pick up a sixth seed at state. In Bakersfield, Austin won a 5-2 quarterfinal match against the tournament’s No. 3 seed (Ce’Ariah Sands of Golden Valley-Bakersfield). She won by pin in the semifinals and finished second to Khamjoi.
KAIYA MAGGINI, Fr., Del Oro (SJS)
The SJS champion was fourth at state, and slipped just 3-2 to eventual state champion Brenda Nunez of Buchanan in the CIF semifinals. Maggini won the prestigious Napa Valley Classic and was the best wrestler on Del Oro’s Masters runner-up squad. Maggini has a strong national tournament resume and should be one of the state’s best next year.
Runner up: ABBEYGAEL CABUAG, Sr., Presentation-San Jose (CCS) — Cabuag is a three-time CIF medalist and was fifth this year.
SCOTTY MOORE, Sr., Branham (CCS)
The undefeated senior who missed a postseason to recover from surgery exploded into a CIF bracket-buster at state. The sixth seed won 7-8 against third-seed Thunder Lewis (Clovis), 4-3 over second-seed Abram Cline (Granite Hills) and pinned top-seed Rocklin Zinnia (Buchanan) after taking a 6-1 lead. He was a serious candidate for NorCal’s Most Valuable Wrestler.
Runner up: SIRAJ SIDHU, Fr., Del Oro-Loomis (SJS) — A potential four-time SJS champ, Sidhu dominated at the section tournament and was fourth at state.
CYNTHIA MEZA, So., Calaveras-San Andreas (SJS)
The two-time state medalist fulfilled her No. 4 seed at state after reaching the state semifinals. She was 4-2 in Bakersfield and pinned Sophia Cornish of Tesoro to reach the bronze-medal match. Meza also finished fifth at Napa and won the SJS title with a 5-2 win over Central Catholic-Modesto standout freshman Aleena Nguyen.
Runner up: ALEENA NGUYEN, Fr., Central Catholic-Modesto (SJS) — She was the SJS runner-up and placed eighth at state in her first prep season.
KIELY TABALDO, Sr., Menlo-Atherton (CCS)
Now a three-time state medalist, Tabaldo earned her first gold by going undefeated at state with a pin and four wins by decision. She outlasted Paloma Valley’s Karissa Turnwall in a 3-0 battle in the state finals. Tabaldo chased her section runner-up finish last year by winning the CCS this year.
Runner up: MIKAYLA GARCIA, Jr., James Logan-Union City (NCS) — The NCS champion matched her fifth-place medal at state last year by winning her last match at state.
ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ, Fr., Los Gatos (CCS)
The freshman stalwart won four tournaments, including the CCS Championships, on his path to a second-place medal at state. His triumphant moment came in the state semifinals, where he beat Fountain Valley’s Anthony Lucio to make the tourney finals. A 9-2 loss to returning CIF runner-up Ronnie Ramirez (Walnut) did little to tarnish a remarkable freshman season and a serious shot at becoming a four-time state medalist.
Runner up: KEKOA MADAYAG, Sr., Novato (NCS) — He won the NCS and was fourth at state after earning a sixth seed into the tournament.
BRISEIS SERRANO, Sr., Lincoln (SJS)
The lone CIF bracket without a NorCal medalist still saw a strong performance from SJS champion Briseis Serrano (above, left). She lost her first match by a 4-1 decision to medalist Mackenzie Muniz of Hillcrest, but won three straight elimination matches to finish in the top 12. Serrano was also fourth at Napa.
Runner up: MIKAYLA PUTSCH, Fr., Evergreen Valley-San Jose (CCS) — Another top-12 finisher at state, the CCS runner-up went a round farther than CCS champion Isabel Garcia of Alisal-Salinas.
ISAIAH CORTEZ, So., Gilroy (CCS)
The two-time Ironman and first time Most Valuable Wrestler honoree was 5-0 at state to finish his undefeated season with a CIF title. He won all his state matches by pin or major decision until a 1-0 battle in the state finals. He is one of the best wrestlers in the nation, and can continue his quest for four state medals, after a third-place finish last year.
Runner up: EZIEQUEL VELA, Jr., Oakdale (SJS) — Vela was seeded ninth at state, but he reached the state quarterfinals before losing to Cortez. He pinned Christian Garcia of Walnut to guarantee a medal (eighth).
LILLY AVALOS, Sr., Pitman (SJS)
NorCal’s Most Valuable Wrestler earned her third state medal in three trips and improved upon her runner-up finish last year by winning it all in 2023. She had four pins at state, including a first-round fall against Anaheim’s Lilyana Balderas in the CIF finals. The Napa Valley Classic champion was undefeated this season.
Runner up: MASON HARSCH, Jr., Monte Vista-Danville (NCS) — The NCS champion was also sixth at state after four consecutive wins in the CIF consolation bracket.
ELIJAH CORTEZ, So., Gilroy (CCS)
The returning CIF bronze medalist capped a fantastic season that included titles at MidCals, Clovis West and the CCS Championships by winning six straight matches at state to win a state championship. He had just one loss to a Californian all season (Bryce Luna of St. Francis), and avenged that loss twice, including in the CCS championships. At state, Cortez survived 1-0, 3-1 and 2-1 decisions to stay perfect. He kept Buchanan-Clovis from winning any weights at state by beating Joseph Toscano by a point in the final.
Runner up: BRYCE LUNA, Jr., St. Francis-Mountain View (CCS) — He was runner-up in the CCS to Elijah Cortez and finished fifth at the state tournament for his second CIF medal.
BAYA AUSTIN, Fr., Pitman (SJS)
Austin was tremendous in her first prep season. After winning Napa, she handily took the SJS title. At state, she upheld her No. 2 seed by winning four straight matches. Her run ended against former state champ Carissa Qureshi of Marina, who won by pin in the gold medal match.
Runner up: TAMARA GRACE, Fr., Gilroy (CCS) — Another sensational freshman, Grace landed a tough No. 6 seed at state, where she dropped a one-point match to Loretta Lopez of Elk Grove in the quarterfinals, but then beat Lopez 5-4 in the third-place match.
TAYDEM KHAMJOI, Sr., Cesar Chavez-Stockton (SJS)
A serious candidate for Most Valuable Wrestler, Khamjoi is a three-time state medalist who got progressively better this year. She snared a No. 1 seed at state by winning a close match in the SJS finals to Pitman’s Gabby Austin. She then earned a rematch with Austin in the state finals, and took a 9-0 lead before winning by pin.
Runner up: GABBY AUSTIN, So., Pitman (SJS) — Austin finished runner-up to Khamjoi at both the SJS Masters and state.
DANIEL ZEPEDA, So., Gilroy (CCS)
Zepeda’s first CIF medal was a gold one. At state, the CCS runner-up missed out on a rubber match with Sobrato’s Aden Valencia (they were 2-2 this year) when Valencia didn’t make weight. Without Valencia in the state bracket, Zepeda delivered one of the most dominating performances of any wrestler. He pinned his first five opponents to reach the CIF finals, where he scored a 20-5 technical fall over second-seeded Gavin Bauder of Clovis North-Fresno, who won the Central Section. Zepeda scored the most team points for third-place Gilroy.
Runner up: JOSH HANNAN, Sr., Arcata (NCS) — The NCS champion overcame his No. 7 seed by beating both the No. 3 and 6 seeds to take fifth at state.
GIANNA DIBENEDETTO, Jr., Bella Vista-Fair Oaks (SJS)
The two-time state placer seemed a long shot to win state after a quick defeat in the SJS Masters finals, but she rose to the occasion in Bakersfield, winning five straight matches in convincing fashion. She prevailed in a 10-0 major decision over Gilroy’s Valerie Glenn to take gold. The junior was also second at Napa.
Runner up: VALERIE GLENN, Sr., Gilroy (CCS) — The CCS champion was the CIF runner-up after a 4-1 record at state.
MOSES MIRABAL, Jr., Gilroy (CCS)
The CCS champion won seven tournaments this season, and followed his CCS title with a fifth-place showing at state. At state, Mirabal dropped a tight 3-0 loss to eventual third-place finisher Paul Kelly of Poway in the consolation semifinals. Mirabal’s run culminated with a 5-2 win over Fountain Valley’s Hercules Windrath in the fifth-place match.
Runner up: JAYSON VICTORIA, Sr., Granada-Livermore (NCS) — The NCS runner-up dropped his first match at state, but won four straight elimination matches to finish in the top 12 before he was eliminated. He went a round farther than NCS champ Atri Feizi of De La Salle-Concord.
MEGAN STOTTSBERRY, Sr., Orland (NS)
The first Northern Section wrestler on this list won a section title and a No. 7 seed at state. She dropped from the state quarterfinals and won a 10-8 decision to lock up a CIF medal. Stottsberry was the lone medalist for an Orland team that has been a longtime strength in girls wrestling.
Runner up: LUNA STATHOPOULOS, Jr., Novato (NCS) — She entered the tournament unseeded after winning the NCS, but won three straight in consolation to take eighth.
EJ PARCO, Jr., LOS GATOS (CCS)
Parco was unbeaten until the state tournament, where he lost two matches by three combined points. He avenged the first of those losses (in the quarterfinals) by surviving a 3-2 thriller over Andrew Barbosa of Palm Desert. Parco’s season included tournament wins at the Doc Buchanan, Reno TOC and the CCS championships. Parco is now a two-time CIF medalist (fifth twice).
Runner up: MAX WISE, Sr., Foothill-Pleasanton (NCS) — The NCS champion is runner-up here thanks to a 3-0 win over Ammar Khan (Franklin-Stockton) in the consolation bracket. He finished top-12.
MIKAYLA LANCASTER, Jr., Gregori-Modesto (SJS)
The two-time state placer won her first SJS championship this year with a hard-fought win over Davis wrestler Avangeline Turner. At state, she won her way to the bronze medal match, where she repeated that feat for a third-place medal. Lancaster was also fourth at state in 2022.
Runner up: AVANGELINE TURNER, Jr., Davis (SJS) — After missing last year’s postseason, Turner shined in the 2023 postseason. She was second in the SJS and fourth at state.
MAXXIMUS MARTINEZ, Sr., Gilroy (CCS)
The St. John Bosco-Bellflower transfer and 2020 third-place state finisher picked up another CIF bronze in his senior season. After missing a portion of the season with an injury and bumping up from 145 pounds, Martinez won the CCS to take the third seed at state. There he won his way to the semifinals before a 2-0 loss to runner-up Collin Guffey of Granite Hills-El Cajon. He beat Gavin Fernandez of De Le Salle and Leo Contino of Buchanan in his next two matches to finish third.
Runner up: GAVIN FERNANDEZ, Sr., De La Salle (NCS) — The NCS champ won his second straight state medal by taking fifth with a 9-3 decision over Southern Section champ Jacob Salcedo of Northview.
DYLAN PILE, So., Los Gatos (CCS)
Pile’s first prep season in the CIF was a spectacular one. He won five tournaments, including the Temecula Valley Battle for the Belt and the CCS championships. At state, Pile repeated his CCS-championship with another two-point win over Travis Grace of Gilroy in the quarterfinals. Pile slipped in the semifinals and finished fourth after a one-point win over Joe Buck of Clovis in the consolation quarterfinals.
Runner up: SHAIDEN CARR, Sr., Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills (SJS) — The SJS runner-up capped his prep career with CIF hardware by surging back from an 11-2 deficit against Grace to win by pin in the round of 12. He finished eighth at state.
SOPHIA YURKOVICH, Sr., Liberty-Brentwood (NCS)
Yurkovich followed up her fifth-place CIF finish in 2022 by taking third this year. At state, the two-time NCS champion slipped in the quarterfinals to eventual state champ Leilani Lemus of Clovis, before winning her next four matches. She nabbed a third-round pin against No. 3 seed Juliana Marquez of San Dimas in her final match of the season.
Runner up: NAJEH RUSSO, Sr., Buhach Colony-Atwater (SJS) — The SJS champion ended sixth at the state tournament.
CARLOS GARCIA, Jr., Oakdale (SJS)
The first Oakdale wrestler on this list won six tournaments and was fifth at the Reno TOC. At state, he won his second straight CIF medal by upsetting No. 4 seed Adrien Reyes of Clovis 5-3 in the quarterfinals. After a semifinal loss, the SJS champ repeated his section finals win over Mason Ontiveros of Pitman to make the third-place match, where he finished fourth.
Runner up: MASON ONTIVEROS, Fr., Pitman (SJS) — Pitman’s freshman standout won seven tournaments, was runner-up in the SJS and fifth at state.
KATHRYN HINGANO, Jr., Rio Linda (SJS)
She was runner-up in the SJS, but Hingano erupted with a terrific state tourney to close her season. The No. 5 seed beat fourth-seeded Jolette Torres of Windsor in a 6-1 quarterfinal to set up a thrilling semifinal with top-seeded Kaley Rice of San Dimas, the Southern Section champion. Hingano took a 15-10 lead in that match before winning by pin, and dropped her next bout to finish second in the state.
Runner up: BIANCA PESOLE, Sr., Elk Grove (SJS) — The SJS champion went 4-2 at state to finish fourth.
THOMAS SANDOVAL, Jr., Vacaville (SJS)
Sandoval was untouchable in the SJS and, until state, was the only wrestler to beat gold favorite Tye Monteiro of Bakersfield. He had just four losses all year, two coming at state before his fourth-place finish. Sandoval was 5-1 at The Clash, 7-0 at the Larry Nelson Duals and won titles at Clovis West and Temecula Valley. He should enter next season ranked first in California.
Runner up: WES BURFORD, Fr., Oakdale (SJS) — An unexpected state medalist (eighth), Burford was just fourth in the SJS, but secured major upsets at state.
KATIANNA MARTINEZ, So., Evergreen Valley (CCS)
The sophomore from San Jose made a terrific run through the consolation bracket at state to become the top NorCal finisher. After losing in the second round, she won four straight to reach the consolation semifinals, where she ended sixth. The CCS champion beat the No. 7 seed on her path to a medal. She was also fourth at Napa.
Runner up: ANGELIQUE TRUEBLOOD, Sr., Pleasant Valley-Chico (NS) — The second of three Northern Section girls on this All-NorCal list, she won a section title and finished one spot better than her No. 8 seed at state.
COBY MERRILL, Fr., Gilroy (CCS)
A serious bracket-buster after his late season entry, the CCS champion was seeded just 13th at state, but beat seeds Nos. 4, 5 and 1 on his path to the CIF finals. A late takedown by Robert Platt of Brawley forced Merrill to settle for second, but he is perhaps the most likely four-time state medalist in the class of 2027.
Runner up: DAVID CALKINS, Fr., Liberty-Brentwood (NCS) — Calkins overcame his 14th seed with three timely wins at state to finish eighth.
NOLAN FRANK, Sr., Elk Grove (SJS)
Frank won six tournaments on his path to state, including the SJS Masters after a 1-0 win against Achilles Clarke of Pitman. Frank guaranteed his state medal by reaching the state semifinals with a 7-1 win over No. 4 seed Rocky Koontz of Clovis East. The two-time SJS champion and state qualifier made the most of his final prep season, placing fifth this year.
Runner up: RYAN JALEEL, Sr., Vallejo (NCS) — The No. 8 seed at state finished sixth in California after five consolation bracket victories.
GEMMA TEMPLETON, Jr., Rocklin (SJS)
Templeton (above, right) was a first-time SJS champion and second-time CIF medalist this year. She took the rough path to medaling at state by losing her second match. In consolation she won four straight to stay alive. She ended her campaign with a 2-0 win over Santa Barbara’s Pepper Marks to finish fifth. Templeton also won a title at Napa.
Runner up: JULIA GOMEZ, Jr., East Nicolaus (NS) — The Northern Section champion and lone East Nicolaus medalist at state was seventh at CIF.
SAM HINOJOSA, Sr., Stagg-Stockton (SJS)
The best wrestler in the SJS was the lone section representative in the CIF finals. He is a two-time state runner-up, losing both times to Iowa State-bound Daniel Herrera of Palm Desert. His senior campaign included three tourney championships and a runner-up SJS finish to Evan Glines of Vista Del Lago-Folsom.
Runner up: EVAN GLINES, Sr., Vista Del Lago (SJS) — The SJS champion delivered at state, finishing fourth.