Ethan Rossi had been in this position before. The San Benito High senior was involved in a nip and tuck match with Salinas’ Erik Lopez in the semifinals of the 134-pound weight class in the Pacific Coast League Championships last Saturday at Gilroy High.
“It was a test to stay calm because I’ve had matches in the past where I’ve lost with a short amount of time left,” said Rossi, who is 22-9 this season. “I knew I had to relax, stay calm and wrestle.”
And that’s exactly what Rossi did. Rossi won his semifinal match 2-0 and was one of four Haybalers who finished in second place in their respective weight classes. The list includes Ethan Salcedo at 108 pounds, Ricardo Nunez at 154 and Karim Yasin at 184. San Benito finished third in the team standings behind Gilroy and Palma. Rossi utilized a switch in the third period and rode his opponent out for the last 90 seconds to clinch a close victory.
“In the first round, things went back and forth,” Rossi said. “I’d shoot, then he’d shoot, and then there was a lot of scrambling. The second round I kind of rode him out the entire period. It was pretty significant because he was tired from trying to get up, and the game plan was to get points in the third when I picked the bottom. When I got those two points, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get in bad positions the rest of the way. Just wrestle smart and don’t get caught where he could score points.”
Rossi had a solid showing in last year’s CCS Championships, finishing sixth. With the section tournament starting on Friday, Rossi hopes to take the next step in one of the tougher weight classes in the section.
“The goal is to definitely make the state tournament and place in the top three,” he said. “I want to stay on the winner’s side of the bracket. I’ve been doing good, and my record is much better than it has been in the past. My top game has improved, which allows me to ride people. I just have to perfect the little things going into CCS.”
Rossi lost to Gilroy’s Nathan Aguilar in the league final, and came away thinking he didn’t take advantage of the few opportunities he had during the match.
“He was really tough in neutral, but I felt like I was doing good and stopping his shots,” Rossi said. “I definitely have to work on scoring whenever I can.”
Nunez, a senior, ran into a buzzsaw in Gilroy’s Chase Saldate in the 154-pound final. Saldate is ranked No. 1 in the nation and a Michigan State signee. Even though Nunez lost via pinfall, he gained a bit of inspiration from facing such a talented opponent.
“It was a wakeup call,” Nunez said. “It showed me how good people can be because he was the hardest guy I’ve ever faced. It was unreal. It just showed me that whoever you’re wrestling and no matter how good they are, never give up in your mind. It’s just wrestling and you can control only what you can control.”
Nunez, who went 3-2 in CCS last year, has had a solid season. He’ll enter this year’s CCS Championships with a 23-9 record. Even though he’s not fully satisfied with his match results, Nunez is content in knowing that he’s given it his all.
“I know I’ve tried my best so far,” he said. “Of course this is the last time doing this, so I’m just giving it my all. Going into CCS, I know I have to be tough not only physically, but mentally. At this point of the season, it’s all about the mental game. I have to work the rounds and stick to the basics.”
Yasin, a sophomore, had a terrific league tournament. Even though he lost in the finals to Palma’s Misha Lomboy by points, it was a vast improvement from their dual meet a week before when Yasin lost via pinfall. Yasin said he made some key adjustments after watching some video of himself.
“I was able to work on some technique and went back to the basics as my key adjustments,” Yasin said. “I’m proud of my performance because I felt like I improved, which is something I plan on doing every year.”
Yasin, who spent the majority of his time on the junior varsity team last year, has come on strong in his first full season on the varsity. He’s been working on his top game, and he often utilizes arm bars to get himself in a position to score points.”
Yasin, who is 19-10 on the season, felt a sense of accomplishment as he reached his goal of making the CCS tournament. His teammate and cousin, Khader Yasin, took third place at 197 pounds. Both have been wrestling since they were 8 years old, pushing each other the entire way.
“We have been wrestling all of our lives, and he has been my practice partner in the past,” Karim said. “We’re both trying to get each other better by working on our technique and pushing our hardest.”
Salcedo, a sophomore, like Yasin has come on strong in his first full varsity season. He’s 22-12 and aiming to place at CCS. Salcedo is the nephew of Balers coach Steven Salcedo.
“One of the big things the coaches have been emphasizing is I need to initiate the attack,” Ethan said. “I can’t be the one on the defense. … I think I’m having a pretty good season, and I’m hoping to finish it off strong.”
Salcedo has had some good matches with North Salinas’ Dylan Hidalgo, and the two are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in the section. Salcedo gained a lot of confidence when he beat Hidalgo 3-1 in their first meeting at the Apple Cider Tournament at Watsonville High.
“It showed me I was able to battle with the older kids and the more experienced wrestlers (as Hidalgo is a senior),” Salcedo said. “That was probably my most exciting match of the season. The second time we wrestled, I pinned him in the third period. He’s a tough opponent, so it felt good to be able to beat him. Before the season started, I set goals to be on the varsity and place at a couple of tournaments. So far this year I’ve placed at every tournament, and I’ve exceeded the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the season. But now I know what I’m capable of this late in the season, and I’m hoping to finish strong.”
Balers junior Chetra Torng was involved in one of the most exciting matches of the PCAL tournament, winning his third-place match in triple overtime.