Balers’ wrestling has bright future

Balers freshman Noah Nelson went 2-2 in the CCS Championships. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Noah Nelson and Khader Yasin represent the future of the San Benito High wrestling program. The duo recently capped tremendous freshmen seasons, as both finished third in the Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division Championships and advanced to the Central Coast Section Tournament. On the girls side, Jenna Hartman will have another shot to grab that elusive CCS title, as she placed fourth at 116 pounds in last Saturday’s CCS Championships at Independence High.

The finish earned the junior a second straight berth into the CIF State Championships, the two-day event that starts on Friday at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. The top finishers from the boys team last Saturday included Michael Guzman, who placed fifth in the 145-pound weight division; Albert Rodriguez, who took fifth at 220 pounds; and Ethan Rossi, who finished sixth at 126 pounds.

For Nelson and Yasin, finishing in third place in the league championships represented a breakthrough. Before the season started, the freshmen had goals to earn a spot on the varsity squad. The fact they peaked at the perfect time—late in the season—was a testament to their focus, work ethic and talent.

“I had low expectations (before the league tournament) began, but I tried my hardest to get to the top,” said Nelson, who won his first two matches at 106 pounds in the CCS Championships before dropping his last two contests to get eliminated.

Nelson started the season on the junior varsity team before earning a spot on the varsity squad late in the season. In the third-place match in the Gabilan Division tournament, Nelson knew it was now or never.

“It was win the match and get third or not go to the CCS Tournament,” he said. “And in that moment everything hit me in that I was either going to go above how I was doing or hit rock bottom. I had to shoot high to place high—that’s my motto.”

Nelson utilized his strengths in the neutral position, relying on shooting to score points. Nelson said he is committed to improve his weaknesses, including his bottom game.

“I’m focused on doing year-round practices with the Razorbacks and even practicing in my garage if I have to,” he said. “I was nervous because I knew I’d be facing seniors and juniors and a lot of people older than me.”

Nelson was nervous in his first varsity match; however, he won via pinfall and hasn’t looked back since. The same could be said of Yasin, who has taken a similar path to become one of the team’s best grapplers by the end of the season. Yasin, who wrestled in the 195-pound weight class this season, had a meteoric rise as he wrestled on the junior varsity team for a good chunk of the season. Yasin’s third-place showing in the Gabilan Division Championships came in just the second varsity tournament of his career.

Yasin comported himself well, winning the third-place match 9-7 in overtime. In the OT period, Yasin’s opponent took a shot that Yasin was prepared for and anticipating. Yasin sprawled, stood back up and threw his opponent down for two points and the sudden-death victory.

“I was calm because I didn‘t want to show I was super happy,” he said. “But when I went to my corner where my coaches were, I was pretty happy. My mindset stays the same in every match and it’s to go out there and do my best.”

Yasin’s strengths lies in his throws, with his favorite being the Japanese Wizard maneuver in which he turns, goes on his knees and in one motion throws his opponents over his shoulder and on their backs. Even though San Benito didn’t qualify anyone from the boys team to the state championships this season, Nelson and Yasin represent a hopeful future, two wrestlers who if they continue to improve have legitimate state aspirations.

This year’s top senior class of Guzman and Rodriguez have passed the proverbial torch, as they wrapped up solid careers in a Balers’ singlet. Guzman won his first three matches at CCS before dropping a 5-1 decision to eventual 145-pound champion John Fox of Gilroy, which turned out to be Fox’s toughest match of the tournament.

Guzman then lost a 9-5 decision to put him in the fifth-place match, which he won via pinfall at the 4 minute, 4 second mark. Like his fellow senior, Rodriguez’s route to a fifth-place finish involved winning his first three matches, losing the next two—including the first to the eventual league champion at 220 pound—and then capturing the match for fifth.

Rossi has the potential to finish in the top three of the CCS Championships next year if he puts in the time in the off-season. A year after taking sixth at 106 pounds, Rossi equaled that finish, this time at 126 pounds. The junior displayed mental toughness and the ability to wrestle strong in the clutch, as he lost his second match to put him in the consolation round early. That’s when Rossi got to work, winning four consecutive matches—three of which came by razor-thin scores of 4-3, 3-2 and 3-1—before he dropped his last two matches to finish in sixth place.

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