Balers aim to have state qualifiers

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The Balers' Ethan Rossi will be one of the standouts for the team this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The San Benito High wrestling team successfully defended its Fehlman/Baxter Tournament championship with a riveting 39-33 win over Golden Valley on Dec. 14. Noah Zaragoza won the final match of the dual, 9-0, clinching the team title. The Haybalers’ A team went a perfect 5-0, with victories over Los Banos (78-6), Cupertino (82-0), St. Joseph (64-18), and Bellarmine (55-18) before the showdown with Golden Valley.

Some of the key individual results included Ethan Salcedo going 3-0, Chetra Torng 4-1, Desizion Costa 3-0, Noah Zaragoza 3-0, Ethan Rossi 3-0, Keith Peliaz 4-0, Derek Sandoval 2-1, Ricardo Nunez 3-2, Sam Fulton 2-0, Matt Trujillo 4-0, Karim Yasin 3-1 and Khader Yasin 2-1. Zaragoza came through in a huge way, winning the final match of the team dual 9-0 to help the Balers clinch the tournament victory. Zaragoza admitted he was pretty nervous before the match started, but he quickly took control en route to the victory.

“I wasn’t expecting to beat him that bad, to be honest,” said Rossi, who is No. 8 in the CCS rankings at 126 pounds. “It was definitely fun, I guess. The atmosphere was interesting. It was very quiet at first, but once the points started going up, it got exciting.”

Trujillo, a senior who is No. 4 in the Central Coast Section in the 170-pound division rankings, said it was a thrill watching Zaragoza come through in the clutch.

“I was getting a little anxiety (as the match started) just knowing this was it,” he said. “We were all screaming and I think Ethan Rossi was screaming the most that he lost his voice from that match. It was loud, everyone was excited and once we won, it was a bouncing off the walls type of thing.”

Balers coach Steven Salcedo has a strong roster that includes top returners Trujillo, Rossi, Zaragoza, and Khader Yasin. San Benito has also received a boost from newcomers Costa and Fulton, who are both transfers. Costa is from Turlock and was one win away from advancing to the CIF State Championships last year out of the Sac Joaquin Section, Salcedo said, while Fulton prepped at Los Gatos High and took third in the Santa Clara Valley League Championships last year at 152 pounds before finishing 2-2 in the CCS Championships.

Rossi entered the week at No. 6 in the 126-pound CCS rankings. The senior has been a steady performer the last couple of years, and quietly goes about getting the job done.

“Ethan gets after it in practice,” Salcedo said. “He’s one of those lead-by-example kind of guys. Each year he has a weight class that is always loaded, so the competition will be real tough. But he’s up to the challenge and is good on his feet, on the mat and is a well-rounded wrestler.”

Salcedo hopes Zaragoza’s performance in the Fehlman/Baxter Tournament is a harbinger for future success. Zaragoza missed parts of last season and didn’t end up wrestling at his correct weight, Salcedo said, but he put in a lot of time wrestling freestyle tournaments over the summer and has come strong.

“Noah is one of our more experienced wrestlers and likes to throw,” Salcedo said. “He has a lateral throw he likes to hit just about on everybody, and he’s another lead-by-example guy who should have a good year.”

Salcedo expects some big things out of Trujillo this season, noting the senior’s strong skill set and ability to grind out matches. Trujillo is strong on his feet and has improved every year. Salcedo is looking for him to execute and finish takedowns, which will lead to a lot of victories. Khader Yasin also possesses strong technique and vast experience, and has the potential to do some special things this season. 

Costa has been dynamite at 120 pounds, beating returning starter Noah Nelson in a challenge match earlier in the year. Costa underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in the off-season and has healed a lot faster than expected, Salcedo said. Nelson is part of a dynamic contingent of San Benito wrestlers in the lower weight classes. Rossi said it’s been nice to have newcomers like Costa and Fulton in the mix, noting they’ve added a different dynamic to the room.

“I like wrestling with Dezision and I like having Sam at the upper weights in practice,” Rossi said. “We all make each other better, and it’s good to see those guys and what they bring from their previous schools.”

Rossi focused on improving his cardio in the off-season, and put in more miles on his training runs than ever before. By improving his cardio, Rossi enters each match with added confidence, knowing he can go the full three rounds—and possibly beyond—and be strong at the finish. Rossi finished fourth in the league championships last year and sixth in the section tournament, and he’s looking to make a finals in a tournament this season.

“I have to finish in the semis,” he said. “I felt like (in the Fehlman/Baxter Tournament) everything was working, from my takedowns and top control. What I want to improve on is my neutral, setting up shots and making sure everything flows from one move to another.”

Trujillo left the Fehlman/Baxter Tournament feeling good about his performance, but knowing he still has plenty to work on if he plans on contending for a league title and a top-three CCS finish.

“I need to work on the little things, like getting in the proper position to shoot,” he said. “I have to believe in myself and keep working for my goals. I need to execute, move and stay focused. My mindset is to never get tired because I know coach doesn’t like us to lose because we’re tired.”

Trujillo put in plenty of mat time in the off-season, competing in various tournaments and attending a four-day camp at Stanford University. The camp provided a different environment and setting for Trujillo, who was energized by the program.

“We’d have three sessions a day, so by the end of it you had given everything you had,” he said. “I learned a lot of new stuff, things that stick with me today like doing shots differently, double legs and different setups on how to take a double leg and a single leg. We did a lot of ground work which involved keeping the opponent down while using different pin combinations.”

In last year’s CCS Championships, Trujillo needed to win the final match on the first day to advance to the second day of competition. He did just that, and in the process exceeded the expectations he had before the tournament started.

“That was my highlight because I didn’t think I’d make it to the second day,” he said. “I was super pumped and excited to wrestle the next day. When I win a big match, I don’t scream. I kind of don’t know what to do and I’m kind of awkward about it.”

Trujillo relayed a story from his freshman season in which he won a key match in overtime at a junior varsity tournament. The crowd got into it, and once the ref raised Trujillo’s arm in triumph, he stood there in shock. Fast forward three years, and Trujillo has had his arm raised enough that he’s used to the situation. A year ago, Trujillo lost to Carmel’s Hunter Brophy in two of the three times they met. Since they’re both in the same league and Brophy is ranked No. 3 and Trujillo No. 4 at 170 pounds, they’ll match up against each other at least once this season (more likely multiple times).

“I think the difference with me this year is I’m able to finish my shots a lot better,” Trujillo said. “Last year I didn’t finish my shots because I didn’t keep driving forward. Now I know whenever I shoot, I have to drive and finish it. I have to basically stay on my toes and move around a lot (to be at my best).”

Speaking of best, Zaragoza feels his senior season could be the best of his high school career. A water polo standout in the fall sports season, Zaragoza went 3-2 in the CCS Championships in both his freshman and sophomore year, one win from placing. However, Zaragoza got off to a rough start last season and never recovered, which gave him a little extra motivation to come back strong this year.

“I’m pumped up for the season and definitely looking forward to it,” he said. “I want to do better than usual. (After the Fehlman/Baxter Tournament) I felt like I could do better. I think my footwork is definitely not as good (and that is something I want to improve on).”

When Zaragoza won his first tournament at Overfelt in his sophomore year, it represented a breakthrough. He loves the competitive atmosphere in the room, especially with all of the strong lightweights on the team.

“It’s very competitive (in the room),” he said. “Roman Morales (grappling partner) is definitely helpful in practice. We’re pretty much on the same level and he helps me with my moves.”

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