Wrestlers have eyes on postseason prizes

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Now is the time for all good wrestlers to fend for themselves. The elimination process for Mike Maul’s Lincoln High School team begins Friday morning with the Pioneer Valley League championships. Eighty-four wrestlers will compete in the tournament if each of the PVL’s six teams brings a full lineup. Only the top four finishers in each of the 14 weight classes will survive beyond Friday evening. That means as many as 28 wrestlers will go home after the tournament at Foothill High in Sacramento. “It’s now about the individual going as far as he can,” Maul said. “The focus really shifts to the individual. The PVL’s 56 survivors will then compete in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III meet on Feb. 18 and 19 at Natomas High in Sacramento. Another meet means another opportunity for elimination. Once again, the top four in each weight class will advance to the section Masters meet Feb. 25 and 26 at Stockton Arena. The Masters meet is a melting pot of wrestlers from all five divisions. There will be 448 wrestlers competing at the Masters meet, or 32 in each weight class. Of those, 457 will sent home once they have lost twice. Only seven in each class will reach their ultimate goal. That is the state championships March 4 and 5 at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, where there will be 560 wrestlers vying for medals. Included in that group will be 91 from the Sac-Joaquin Section. OK, that is enough mathematics for the time being. Maul would much rather focus on his 14 wrestlers. Well, make that 15. Sophomore Gabrielle Eslinger qualified for the girls state championships Feb. 25 and 26 at Leemore High by winning the 108-pound class at the section regional tournament last Saturday. With several seniors in his boys lineup, Maul has reminded them that their days on the mat are numbered. “The seniors can’t look forward to tomorrow. It’s all about today,” Maul said. “This is the last time for them. They’re two losses away from being it over. There has to be a sense of urgency for them.” Maul’s 14 wrestlers competed as a team for the last time this season in the section dual championships last Saturday at Lincoln High in Stockton. The Zebras finished second in Division III. Lincoln defeated Pioneer of Woodland 45-29 and El Camino of Sacramento 48-27 to reach the finals for the first time in four years. The Zebras ran out of gas, however, once they got there. Maul’s squad was no match for Rodriguez of Fairfield and settled for second after a 57-12 loss. Seniors Taylor Unbehaun (112 pounds) and Jesse Nakasone (119) each went 3-0 to lead the Zebras. “We were determined to go as far as we could,” Maul said. “Rodriguez was just a bigger, badder dog.” The Zebras should not feel all that bad. Rodriguez opened the tournament with a 72-0 rout of Placer. Two weeks ago, Lincoln pulled out a 37-31 victory over Placer to dethrone the three-time defending PVL champion. The Zebras and Hillmen will meet again at the league tournament, which begins at 10 a.m. Friday.