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Sierra grappler returning to form after late start
Weston Ranch senior Chris Contreras went undefeated in the Valley Oak League and will try keep rolling at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Tournament that starts Friday. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Alex Nuanez’s march for redemption continues Friday and Saturday with the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Tournament at East Union High.

Nuanez felt that he was good enough to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships as a sophomore last year but was eliminated in the consolation round in Day 1 of the section’s Masters Tournament at the University of the Pacific.

He finished 2-2 and was the city’s top performer of the day, but he still walked away dissatisfied.

The top five placers at the Division IV tournament advance to the Masters, which takes place Feb. 26-27 at Stockton Arena. From there, the top seven in each weight class go on to state.

“Last year I should have went farther and made it to state,” Nuanez said. “I lost to a guy (Chris Zawaideh of Rodriguez) that was ranked sixth in the section. I was beating him and just gassed out at the end.

“Right now I’m just focused on placing well at divisionals, get a good seed for Masters and go from there.”

Nuanez, now 30-6 with 21 pins on the season, wants to peak at the right time after a late start to the season.

Nuanez was a starting defensive lineman during the school’s historic football run in the fall. The Timberwolves clinched a share of their first-ever Valley Oak League championship and made it as far as the third round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

The transition from football to wrestling was rough. He opened his junior campaign with a 3-2 finish at the Weston Ranch Cougar Duals and continued to wrestle 189 pounds for most of the season leading up to last Saturday’s VOL Tournament. He was at 160 last year and took second at 171 in the conference finale.

“After losing those two matches I really started to push myself and didn’t want to lose again,” he said.

Nuanez went on two win titles at the Lynn Dyche Classic in San Jose, where he was named the outstanding wrestler in the upper-weight divisions, and Bill Martell Tournament in Walnut Creek. He also took third at the Big Valley Classic and was the runner-up at the 5th Annual Rumble in the Jungle in Turlock.

Nuanez redeemed himself from the slow start to the season and hopes to do so again with an expected rematch with Oakdale standout A.C. Brown later this week.

The California Wrestler ranks Brown the second best 171-pounder in the section, and Nuanez is fourth.

But their anticipated showdown last Saturday for the VOL’s 171-pound title was one-sided, with Brown coasting to a 10-0 victory.

Brown used his significant size advantage at 6 feet, 2 inches to get the better of Nuanez, who is at his best using his low center of gravity and agility at 5-6.

“I have trouble with tall guys, but I didn’t wrestle my match against him,” Nuanez said. “I didn’t keep moving, and usually I use my speed. I tried to work the upper body too much and tried to throw him, and that didn’t work.

“I’ll see him at the finals again at divisionals.”

Other contenders

The area’s three VOL champions also have good shots at making the Division IV finals, but the competition obviously gets stiffer.

East Union junior heavyweight Devon Woodall had little trouble winning league, but Daniel Gusev of Center, who is ranked second in the section and a 2009 state qualifier, is the favorite.

Weston Ranch’s Travis Bowen raised his stock by beating the section’s seventh-ranked 140-pounder, Adam Hammerback (Sonora), in league Saturday.

Bowen’s teammate, Chris Contreras, is a threat 189 after winning a league championship. His biggest challenge at divisionals is seventh-ranked Nikolay Yakshin (Center).

East Union senior Marco Castaneda won the 119-pound title at divisional last year but will be a part of a loaded field at 125 this week.

He upset Oakdale’s Cody Sleeman, No. 6 in the section, Saturday but lost to No. 4 Curtis Hulstine (Ceres) 16-5 in the finals. Jordan Achanzar (Whitney), whom Castaneda defeated for his divisional championship, and Dalton Richardson (Placer) are others to look out for.

Division V

Ripon High produced the area’s lone state qualifier in Ryan Mackey, who has since graduated. Four state hopefuls from the program will try to follow in his footsteps.

The Indians must first qualify for Masters from the Division V Tournament held at Hilmar. Trevor Daniel (145) and Christian Spence (215) earned championships at the Trans Valley League Tournament last weekend. Travis Smith (189) and Matt Baker (285) were runners up. The TVL will only take its top two placers to divisional.