Branden Rullan may have fallen short of his ultimate goal, but he’ll leave Sierra High as its most accomplished wrestler to date.
He’s come a long way since he first step foot in the school’s wrestling room as a freshman, but coach Alberto Loaiza always thought of Rullan as a “100 percent wrestler.” Rullan is the Manteca Bulletin All-Area Wrestler of the Year.
“He had some roadblocks,” Loaiza said. “He was a little timid when he started with us but he had the talent and has always been real coachable. As he got older he started getting tougher and meaner on the mat. We could tell he was going somewhere.”
That “somewhere” is Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, the site of the CIF State Championships.
Rullan is just the second Timberwolf to qualify for the state tournament, doing so twice — first at 120 pounds last year, then at 132. Alex Nuanez, the son of Sierra head coach Alex Nuanez Sr., made it in 2010 and 2011 but never advanced to the second day.
Despite a tough first-round defeat, Rullan vanquished three straight opponents to become the first Sierra wrestler to advance to Day 2 of state earlier this month. He was also the only Manteca-area to reach the state tourney this year.
“I didn’t want to settle, I really wanted to place,” Rullan said. “But making it to the second day was great. They pulled us into the room at weigh-ins and they said, ‘You guys should give yourself a hand because you’re one of the top 16 wrestlers in the state of California in your weight class.’ That felt pretty good.”
His only losses at state were to seeded competitors. Rullan drew Central Coast Section champion Alex Felix of Gilroy, seeded third. Rullan lost by major decision, 14-1.
“Branden started off cold,” Loaiza said. “He wasn’t his normal self and I think it was because of the kid he was facing. That made him take a little step back.”
Rullan moved forward from there, blowing past Southern California-based opponents Southwest’s Jimmy Alvarez (2:17), Rowland’s Armando Murillo (6-0) and Paramount’s Nick Camacho (11-1).
That left Rullan two wins away from the medal rounds — all top-eight finishers are awarded hardware at state. He was stopped short by 10th-seeded Anthony Le of Laguna Hills via a 52-second pin on his only match on the second day.
“There were a lot of tough kids in my weight class,” Rullan said.
Rullan finished his senior campaign with a 37-8 record, and half of his losses were to state placers. He lost three times to Ricky Torres from powerhouse Oakdale, including in the championship rounds of the Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III tournaments. Felix and Torres ended up third and sixth at state, respectively.
Also on Rullan’s résumé are first-place finishes in the McNair Invitational, Bear Creek Invitational and Gregori’s Jaguars Invitational. He was voted Co-Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Bear Creek Invitational with teammate Vincent Marquez.
Rullan finished fourth in the SJS Masters Tournament the past two years. In his final run at Masters, he capped a perfect 3-0 opening-day finish with a 1-0 decision over Elk Grove’s Eric Spence to reach the winners-bracket semifinals. He lost to eventual runner-up Ryley Boutain of Benicia 10-0 but bounced back with another shutout win, 5-0, over Oak Ridge’s Ricky Mello. That landed him a spot in the third-place match with J.T. Stinson of Del Oro, but Rullan forfeited because of a sore shoulder.
Rullan attributed his 2016-17 success to a rigid offseason training regimen and the encouragement from his coaches.
“I just kept it in my head that it’s my last year and I have to give it my all,” Rullan said. “I trained more in the offseason, got into some lifting programs and competed in tournaments. I definitely felt a lot stronger this year and my technique was way better.”
Rullan will continue to wrestle after high school and is leaning toward competing for Delta College. Loaiza said the best has yet to come from him.
“He can still learn a lot more,” Loaiza said, “Being from a smaller school it’s hard. You have to have quality wrestlers throughout the team to help you get better in practice and he’ll get that in college.”