Tyler Diaz showed little rust in his first tournament appearance in eight months.
In fact, he may have even gotten better from the layoff.
The East Union senior showed well in the Western States Preseason Championships last weekend at the George S. Eccles Ice Center in North Logan, Utah. No stranger to facing top-flight competition, the 2020 California Interscholastic Federation State Championships qualifier battled his way to an impressive second-place finish in the 145-pound high school boys division.
“I was satisfied that I placed as high as I did,” Diaz said. “I honestly thought it was going to be tougher for me. I did have some good matches, but I think I could have done a little better.
“Maybe it's just the work I've been putting in that made it much easier than expected. Going over some of my videos, those guys didn't look like bad wrestlers at all — they were all pretty good.”
Diaz figured he'd be at a disadvantage being in unfamiliar territory and facing unfamiliar opponents, some of whom had already logged live matches going into the event. Most youth- and high school-level athletes in California haven't had opportunities to enter competitions locally since mid-March when the COVID-19 lockdown orders were implemented.
The last tournament Diaz participated in was the state championships back in Feb. 27-29. He was the lone male qualifier from the Manteca area, finishing 2-2 with both losses coming against medalists including top-seeded champ Alex Ramirez from the Southern Section. Diaz claimed the Valley Oak League's 138-pound title and compiled a 30-8 record in the 2019-20 prep season, earning Manteca Bulletin All-Area Male Wrestler of the Year honors.
Just a few weeks after the state tourney, the spring sports season was canceled for CIF member schools as campuses closed up for the remainder of the academic year.
Diaz kept himself busy over the spring and summer months. When he wasn't conditioning with the football team — he's a key returner at running back and safety — Diaz worked out on his own.
“I was working out almost every day of the week,” Diaz said. “It didn't bother me much. I enjoyed it and it kept me out of trouble. I don't think it affected me. It was probably better for me.”
With college aspirations weighing on his mind, Diaz knew he was going to have to hit the competitive circuit at some point to continue building his resumé, especially with his senior season in doubt at the high school level. Diaz hadn't wrestled out of state since the eighth grade, but on a whim he entered the Western States Preseason Championships after his dad agreed to it.
“I know I need to start getting some eyes on me,” he said.
It didn't take long for him to find his form, winning 8-3 decisions in his opening bouts against Blake Ely of Washington and Jack Lieuallen of Oregon.
“Going into my first match I didn't know what to expect since I didn't know the kid,” Diaz said. “I was feeling him out at the start but after the first 10 seconds I was good to go. It just flowed again.”
Diaz was dealt his only loss of the tournament in the third round, a 3-1 defensive struggle won by eventual champion Conway Christensen of Utah. Diaz proved to be the toughest match for Christensen, who waxed his first opponent via tech fall and won three others with first-period stoppages.
“I still think I should have beaten him,” Diaz said. “I wasn't getting into my offense as well I did in my other matches. I'm proud that I was the guy to give him his toughest match, but wrestling him didn't seem much different than the other guys. Once in awhile you have one of those off matches and that was my one off match.”
Diaz responded with five straight victories, outpointing Eli Howard (Oregon) 17-3, Devin Padilla (Washington) 6-1, Tyler Grady (Nevada) 7-5, Jackson Visser (Utah) 5-3 and Hunter Harwood (Oregon) 7-3 in the second-place match. Harwood was earlier pinned by Christensen in 1 minute, 44 seconds in the championship final.
Diaz is now focused on football with the season scheduled to start in early January. He doesn't plan on participating in any more tournaments in 2020 and is hopeful to get another shot at the state tournament.
“I feel pretty confident I'll go back to state this year and do better than last year,” he said. “I don't want to just place, I obviously want to win the whole thing. If I can at least place I'll be happy with that because I want to get some college scholarship offers. I want to take it to the next level. I'm not just looking to the (immediate) future, I'm also past that.”