After finishing sixth in the Central Coast Section Championships last year, Michael Guzman knew he needed to make improvements to realize his goal of making the podium this season and advancing to state. The San Benito High senior is confident he’s made the necessary improvements to close the gap between him and the very best in the 145-pound division, which is one of the most stacked weight classes in the CCS.
“I’m excited and feeling really good,” Guzman said. “I feel like I’m in my best shape and feeling really confident. Last year CCS was tough, but looking back it was apparent I had to work on my bottom game and get stronger.”
Haybalers coach Steven Salcedo has high hopes for Guzman, who trained for a good portion of the off-season.
“Michael is good on his feet and is very hard to score on,” Salcedo said. “He’s good on defense and a scrambler, meaning even if you get a hold of him, he’s hard to keep down. He tends to find his way on top in scramble position, has some good takedowns and his best position is when he’s on his feet in the neutral position.”
Guzman leads another San Benito team that expects to be solid again. Other top returners include Albert Rodriguez, Ethan Rossi, Ricardo Nunez and Jack Barajas. Rodriguez enters the week ranked seventh in the 220-pound division. A standout on the football team, Rodriguez is making a name for himself on the mat. Last season, Rodriguez finished second in the league tournament before going 3-2 in the CCS Tournament.
“Albert has grown into his own,” Salcedo said. “He’s a big, strong kid, and athletic. He can move his feet, which for a bigger guy is not always easy.”
Rossi, a junior, will wrestle at 120 to 126 pounds. Rossi made nice strides in the off-season after wrestling a lot of freestyle tournaments.
“Ethan is very similar to Michael in that he’s pretty tough to take down on his feet,” Salcedo said. “He’s kind of quiet, but on the mat, he’s vicious.”
Barajas, a senior who will wrestle around 138 pounds, typifies the prototypical Baler in terms of having a strong work ethic and always going all out in every practice and match. Some key newcomers include freshman Albert Colmenero, who will wrestle around 126 pounds, and Noah Nelson, another freshman who will compete around 113 pounds.
“I’m excited about working with both of them, and they’re guys I have high hopes for,” Salcedo said.
San Benito has a new girls coach in former standout Samantha Barrientos, and a top-notch returner in Jenna Hartman, who is ranked second at 116 pounds. Hartman had a tremendous sophomore season last year, finishing third in the CCS Tournament to advance to state.
“Jenna is a stud and we’re hoping she wins CCS this year,” Salcedo said. “She is an awesome young lady, one of the hardest workers in the room and very smart with a 4.1 GPA. If she continues doing well, she will find herself earning a scholarship.”
The Balers have another standout on the girls team in Madeline Pena, who is ranked third at 126 pounds. Guzman made the necessary adjustments in the off-season to put himself in the best position possible to have a fantastic senior season. To improve his cardio, Guzman ran regularly, completing 6 mile runs every Sunday. He also jump-roped and did 100 push-ups every morning.
Guzman also competed in some competitive freestyle and folkstyle tournaments in the off-season, placing seventh in the CAUSA High School Folkstyle Championships in March.
Another big reason why Guzman feels more confident than ever is the fact he’s a heavier 145 pounds this season rather than a light 145, which was the case last season. A year ago, Guzman had to work hard to gain weight to make 145, but this year Guzman will cut weight to be at 145.
“I was really nervous going into CCS last year because I was looking at these guys and thinking they’re heavier than me,” Guzman said. “Now I’ll be cutting down to that weight class, and being bigger gives me more confidence overall. I’ve never felt this good to start a season than I am now.”