SportStars Magazine

No One Horse Town for Oakdale Wrestlers

Oakdale Wrestling Stands Toe-To-Toe With Its Football Program — And Will Again In 2017-18 •

In a one-school town where football is king, wrestling must wait patiently for access to royalty.

Oakdale’s Steve Strange, coach of the best wrestling team in the Sac-Joaquin Section, will miss a considerable chunk of his lineup as Mustang footballers execute another brilliant postseason campaign.

Counting its Dec. 1 section final against Manteca, Oakdale football has played 40 postseason games in the last 10 years. If the Mustangs nab a repeat trip to the state bowl championships, football players won’t be eligible to wrestle until Christmas Day — of course, the only Saturday wrestlers have off.

Strange calls it a double-edged sword.

“It’s great for the school, town and atmosphere of the sports community, but we have probably seven to eight kids playing football and they aren’t wrestling,” Strange said. “A guy like Bronson Harmon won’t wrestle until January, and that hurts us, but it’s something we have to deal with.

“When I look at the football schedule, I figure we just won’t have those guys until the end of December.”

Bronson Harmon

Harmon is an elite talent on the Mustang football team, but he’s also a two-time SJS Masters champion and returning California Interscholastic Federation State Championships medalist (fourth). He’s No. 1 in the SportStars NorCal wrestler rankings at 160 pounds, one of 13 Mustangs occupying the top-20 lists for 14 weight classes. That depth is why Oakdale trails only Gilroy in team rankings.

It’s also why the Mustangs are favored to win their second Masters title in school history this season. The Mustangs won four individual SJS championships a year ago, but finished third in team scoring — though they went on to be the top scoring SJS team at state.

Being the best in the SJS matters. The deepest section in Northern California sends at least twice as many qualifiers (six) to the state tournament than any other section in the north. Seven of the top 10 Northern California teams are from the SJS.

Oakdale returns Harmon, CIF runner-up Colby Harlan (195) and two-time state medalist Ricky Torres (138). Jake Ryan (145), Gabe Martinez (170) and Dustin Chavez (126) also have a combined eight state wins under their belt, and will vie for their first piece of CIF hardware this season.

The three seniors of that group, Harlan, Harmon and Ryan, are prepared for the future. Harlan will wrestle at Stanford while Ryan and Harmon have signed with Cal Poly. Oakdale also has returning talent — namely Matt Kjeldgaard (285), Jorge Barajas (220) and Colby Golding (182) — with legitimate shots to reach the state tournament for the first time.

Then there’s the freshmen.

Brayden Abell (106), Clayton Bashor (113), Henry Porter (120) and Seth Borba (132) are heralded as immediate contenders in their weight divisions, thanks to an extensive year-round wrestling pedigree with Oakdale’s club team.

It’s a lineup with outrageous potential, and Strange has set the bar high.

“They give out four team trophies at state, and that’s our goal,” Strange said. “This team is the result of a bunch of good kids that want to work hard, and we are proud of the group that we have, on and off the mat.”

Oakdale will compete in the Bakersfield Rumble for the Rig on Dec. 2 and host 27 teams at the 42nd Annual James Riddle Invitational Dec. 9. Among the attending schools are Northern Section stalwarts Durham, Shasta-Redding and Sutter. Golden Valley-Merced, Calaveras, Tokay-Lodi, Modesto Christian, Ponderosa-Shingle Springs and Patterson represent the best of the SJS competition in attendance.

Oakdale duals longtime state-power Clovis Dec. 29, potentially the first real shot for football players to see action.

Oakdale’s schedule also includes the Reno Tournament of Champions Dec. 15, the Doc Buchanan Jan. 5, Temecula Valley Battle for the Belt Jan. 12 and MidCals Jan. 26.

“With the caliber of wrestlers we have this year, we have to challenge them with elite tournaments,” Strange said. “Some of those guys would not be challenged all year if we did not go to those events.

“And now that they seed the state tournament you have to go out there and get those wins. Rankings are not just for fun anymore.”

And Oakdale isn’t just for football.

— Ike Dodson

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