Junior is sole survivor in wrestling

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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A secluded corner in Natomas High School’s gymnasium was hardly the proper place for Jesse Nakasone last Saturday. The Lincoln High senior expected to be a contender, not a spectator. Nakasone’s aspirations in his final year with the Zebras went well beyond the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III wrestling tournament. His sights were set on reaching the state meet for the first time. Bakersfield seemed a million miles away as Nakasone sat in the corner and buried his face in his hands. Teammate Joey Ireland did all he could to console Nakasone, given the circumstances. Nakasone had toiled for four years with the Zebras to have his career halted in one six-minute match. “His season ended a week too soon,” coach Mike Maul said. Only one of the nine Lincoln wrestlers who competed in the division tournament survived. Junior Drew Suchomel placed second at 189 pounds, losing to Center’s Khmba Johnson in the finals. “(Suchomel) was in one of the most difficult brackets,” Maul said. “I thought he might be on the outside looking in.” Suchomel will compete in the section Masters tournament Friday at Stockton Arena. He will need to finish among the top seven in his weight class to qualify for the state meet March 4 and 5. Mike Maul has sent five wrestlers to the state meet in 13 seasons as the Zebras coach. Suchomel is seeking to become the first Lincoln wrestler to go to Bakersfield since Tony Ramirez in 2008. Lincoln has one more wrestler still competing. Sophomore Gabby Eslinger will wrestle in the girls state championships Friday at Lemoore High. Eslinger was the section champion at 108 pounds. Suchomel and Eslinger each have at least two matches remaining with the Masters and girls state meets being a double-elimination format. Nakasone wishes he could have just one more. Nakasone’s season came to an abrupt end, one victory shy of punching his ticket to the Masters tournament. All he needed to do was reach the third-place match to earn a ticket to Stockton Arena. A loss to Antelope sophomore Branden Matu sent Nakasone out of contention – and into a corner. The top four wrestlers in each weight class qualified for the Masters meet. Of the top four at 112 pounds, Nakasone had victories this season against the champion and the fourth-place finisher. “That makes it a little harder because I beat those guys,” Nakasone said. “I thought I’d be able to make it.” After consoling Nakasone, Ireland faced Colfax’s Vinny Corralejo at 160 pounds with the winner clinching a trip to the Masters meet. Ireland’s season ended when he was pinned by Corralejo. Ireland may have been living on borrowed time. He trailed 5-3 in his opening-round match Friday against Hogan’s Josh Lee before scoring a reversal and a three-point nearfall in the final 30 seconds. Although disappointed, Ireland and Nakasone will not leave the Zebras empty-handed. They were two reasons why Lincoln ended Placer’s three-year reign as the Pioneer Valley League champion. Qualifying for the state meet would have been nice, but they can settle for dethroning their rivals. “It was a real big deal for us. I was really glad we did it,” Nakasone. “I felt like if we were ever going to do it. This was going to be our best chance. As hard as we worked this season, we deserved it.”