FAIRFIELD — If you’re wrestling in the Monticello Empire League this season, you better bring your ‘A’ game.
With the addition of Rodriguez, the MEL looks to be the standout league again with perennial power Vacaville, and the always competitive Armijo, Will C. Wood and Napa.
Over in the Solano County Athletic Conference, the addition of Fairfield, which joins long-time member Vanden, the league could be up for grabs this season.
Here’s a look at this year’s area teams:
The Mustangs return to the MEL after nine years in the SCAC, the last five as champions, and coach Mike Clarkston and his grapplers are looking to make a case that they should be there.
Rodriguez returns five wrestlers to its starting lineup, but it always seems to have a fresh crop of young ones that fill the void on the varsity.
Brandon Vu (120 pounds), Ralph Carios (145), Jake Cross (160), Mark Papish (195)a and Henry Medeiros (182, 195) return this season after helping lead the Mustangs to its last SCAC crown before rejoining the MEL.
Clarkston had too many newcomers to list on the varsity, but isn’t too worried since most of them have been with the program for a while now.
“They were all around last season,” Clarkston said. “We’ve got some serious depth.”
As for joining the MEL?
“We’ve been to tournaments with Armijo and Wood, and we dual Vacaville every year,” he said. “It makes (the wrestlers) more hungry. Every Wednesday it’s going to be ‘go time.’ It will keep intensity up all season long.”
The Indians are stacked again this season, returning 11 of their 14 starting wrestlers from a season ago.
Darius Levan (106), Terrance Saeteurn (113), Jonathan Baldiosera (126), Hayden Scibek (138), Dennis Mattiuzi (145), Jorge Perez (152), Amini Kapapa (160), Danny Charos (184), Max Uson (190), Toeta Eslie (220) and Kris Elkin (heavyweight) are all back for Armijo, while freshman Houston Scibek (122) is looking to crack the starting lineup.
Coach Cesar Correa knows with Rodriguez now in the MEL mix, the league is probably the toughest it’s been in years.
“It’s real good,” Correa said. “We’ve had some success so far, but this is one of toughest leagues in the entire (Sac-Joaquin) Section. That really stepped it up a notch. It would be nice to finish in the top 3 (in the MEL).
Even with the Mustangs coming over, the Bulldogs are still the class of the MEL, having won 17 straight league titles and 34 in the its 35-year history.
Vacaville comes into this season ranked No. 2 in the state, according to www.thecaliforniawrestler.com, thanks to seven returning state championship qualifiers and nine that made it to the SJS Masters Championships.
Tops for the ‘Dogs are Jeremy Sweany, the top-ranked 195-pounder in the state, and Gionn Peralta, ranked No. 1 in California at 108 pounds. Peralta is in search of his fourth straight medal in the state tournament.
Seniors Kasey Klaus (120), Chris Lai (182), Zack Dawson (152) and Cameron Bailey (126) will also help anchor the lineup. Dawson narrowly missed a trip to state last season, but won the SJS Division 1 tournament and the MEL a year ago. Klaus won the Masters at 122 pounds, but failed to medal at state. He has made three trips to the state tournament, and is hoping the fourth time is the charm.
Bailey finished fourth at the D-I tournament last spring, and was closest of all the seniors to medaling at state, losing in the round of 12 on the second day. Ivy League-bound Lai was runner-up in the Sac Joaquin section a year ago, and won the Division 1 North title.
“We’re not the team you see on paper that we should yet, but we are slugging along,” co-coach Adam Wight said. “I’m excited (to have Rodriguez in the MEL). I’m for wrestling and the better wrestlers, the better the competition is. That’s a good thing.”
The Wildcats are always in the mix when the MEL tournament comes around, and this season shouldn’t be much different for coach Thor Jensen.
Wood returns league champs Manny Griego (113) and Josh Winters (220) to this year’s team, along with J.T. Teel (106), Hunter Morrison (120) and Adrian Maldonado (152). Seniors Alex Parvin (138) and Isaiah Sanchez (145) are also back, with the Wildcats adding Zach McKee (126) and Royce Ramirez (132) from last season’s JV squad.
“It’s a tougher league (with Rodriguez),” Jensen said. “We do host league tourney Feb. 9. . . . So we’ll see where we’re at against some tougher competition.”
The Vikings are once again in a rebuilding mode under coach Lloyd Wilson.
Fernando Angelo (138) and Albert Bernales (170) are the only two returning starters back from a season ago, but Brandon Dontogan is back after a year’s absence from the team. Alana Waldorf is also back for the girl’s team.
Wilson will look to develop his younger wrestlers, including Kyle Tygart and freshman Xavier Penrod.
“We are a young group that’s trying to find ourselves,” Wilson said. “We don’t have a lot of people who have a lot of experience. We have people who are trying to develop into wrestlers.”
According to coach Kyle Holsworth, the Falcons have 33 wrestlers this season, the most in a few years.
Eight varsity boys grapplers are back, including section qualifier Alberto Martinez (120), Russell Sales (145), J.P. Siat (126) and John Mason (heavyweight). Fairfield brought up Mark Beckendorf (132), Feliciano Padillo (138) and Jesse Martinez (160) to join the varsity this season.
Holsworth is also looking to get some good results from his girls team that includes Alejandra Sanchez-Fernandez, Dalao Maqatash, Itzia Rosales, Guadalupe Reyes, Grecia Mora-Calderon.
“Were looking to take top 3 in the SCAC,” Holsworth said. “I think Benicia is the top contender and then Bethel. Those (will be our) two (toughest) competitions.”
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.