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Ripon senior locks down top-16 finish
Ailments slow Sierras Nuanez in 2nd trip to state
Ripon High senior Travis Smtih tries to wriggle his wrist free from Ramona’s Marshall Thrasher in his first match at the CIF State Championships in Bakersfield Friday. - photo by Ike Dodson
BAKERSFIELD — They went about it different ways, but at the end of Day 1 both Ripon High senior Travis Smith and Sierra senior Alex Nuanez had seen their final prep matches on a high school wrestling mat.

But they certainly knew the best place to do it at.

Smith was 2-2 at 215 pounds and Nuanez 0-2 at 171 in the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships at Rabobank Arena Friday.

Smith was just two wins short of a state medal after an even run through his bracket, finishing in the top 16. He downed San Diego Section runner-up Marshall Thrasher of Ramona in a thrilling 6-4 decision to open his tournament.

But Smith next ran into returning state champ and nationally ranked Tank Knowles of Calvary Chapel, who had pinned both of his first two opponents in less than three minutes on Friday. Smith was dangerously close to a reversal at the close of the second round, and pushed Knowles to the brink in a 17-4 decision that went the distance, but dropped him to the consolation bracket.

He then won by a 5-1 tally over Antonio Lopez of Paramount (at one point ranked No. 4 in the state) to advance to the fourth round of consolation, where he met Southern Section third-place finisher Garrado Aguirre of Oak Hills.

 The two wrestlers were deadlocked at 0-0 after a round, and 2-2 after two rounds, but Aguirre’s second round takedown and third round escape allowed for a 3-2 advantage. The one-point deficit carried into the final seconds for Smith’s season finale.

“I know a lot of seniors didn’t make it to this point, so to go 2-2 at state makes me feel like I accomplished a lot this year,” Smith said. “Coach (Glen White) is awesome at what he does, and he prepared me well for each match I had today.”

Smith was Ripon’s 14th state qualifier in White’s 12th season as coach. White said he saw Smith improve dramatically in a four-year career that made waves at last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament (didn’t place in 2010, 6th in 2011) and culminated with a deep push into this year’s postseason.

“I don‘t think Travis has any regrets when he looks back at this season,” White said. “He wrestled hard in every single match today and he ended his career on a good note to be top 16 at the state tournament.”

Nuanez dropped back-to-back matches to see his untimely exit in the first round of consolation, but his state participation was still a strong last hurrah to a spectacular career that ended with Nuanez battered, but not broken.

The Sierra grappler wasn’t able to spend a single minute on the mat last week after shoulder and knee injuries preceded a late bout with an illness that left him unable to practice each day since his sixth-place finish at Masters a week ago.

Still sniffling away his fight with the cold, and his shoulders finally released from the elaborate support harness he wrestles with, Nuanez took time to think back on his career just a few seats away from the rounds of tournament action he fell short of.

“I wanted to do good and I came in confident, just maybe too confident.” Nuanez said. “At 100 percent, I would not have lost those two matches.”

Nuanez struggled to fight off opposing near-fall attempts in both matches, and saw a 12-0 defeat to Ryan McWatters (Southern Section champ) in his pig-tail opener. A round later, his tourney came to a close after a 14-1 loss to Reid Pelfrey (Live Oak).

Nuanez ends a proud career as Sierra High’s first-ever state participant, two-time state qualifier and four-time SJS Masters wrestler. He’s left a legacy for the younger Timberwolves to follow.

“We have some good guys coming up on this team, and some of the younger ones are already telling me that they are gunning for my records,” Nuanez said. “I like that though, I hope someone does do it.

“It’s going to be nice when people talk about Sierra wrestling that my name comes up.”

His father, Alex Nuanez Sr., enjoyed his trip to state in his first season as Sierra’s head coach. Nuanez Sr. said he has committed to seven years with the T’wolves, but won’t soon forget his first.

“It’s real rewarding to be a part of this team and to be a part of my son’s career,” coach Nuanez said. “He has put Sierra on the map, and it makes me proud to see his heart and desire to come out and compete despite not practicing all last week.”

To contact Ike Dodson, e-mail