MISSION — There must be something in the water in La Joya. The city boasted three undefeated wrestlers in La Joya High’s Michael De La Cruz and La Joya Juarez-Lincoln’s Jose Cerda and Willi Bonilla entering Saturday.
The trio of unbeaten La Joya stars all won their respective weight class titles to remain unbeaten, as all the Huskies and Coyotes’ wrestlers from top to bottom dominated their competition and propelled the two programs to first- and second-place team finishes, respectively, at Day 2 of the Rattler Invitational at Sharyland High School.
Juarez-Lincoln entered the afternoon’s slate of title matches way out in front on the team leaderboard, but La Joya High found itself in the middle of the pack.
The Coyotes put the gym on notice, however, thanks to a pair of dominant early performances by Andres Ochoa and Jacob Gonzalez, who both clinched third-place finishes and each improved their records to 18-1.
Ochoa, a sophomore, got La Joya High out to a hot start by manhandling Sharyland High’s Paola Miranda in the 113-pound class third place match. Ochoa, who lost his first match of the season in the semifinals, looked determined to make a statement in his bout and never let Miranda up off the mat.
It was the duo’s second matchup of the young season, and Ochoa used the opportunity to build on his last performance against Miranda.
“That definitely was (one of my better matches). The first time I went against him he was impressive, but I just wanted to show him that I could come back and get another medal,” he said. “I just listened to my coach more. Every time he tells me whatever I’m doing wrong, I had to fix it that second on the mat.”
Gonzalez faced a similar situation in his third-place bout in the 145-pound class. Fresh off his only loss of the season, he shot out of the gate as the aggressor and stayed in control of the match from start to finish, outscoring his opponent 15-0 as part of an overwhelming performance.
It’s been a long road back to the mat for Gonzalez, who was sidelined for a good chunk of the offseason rehabbing a torn ACL and meniscus, but has re-emerged even better and stronger than before.
“It was tough. I wasn’t really able to do pretty much anything, so I was in bed for a month without being able to do anything,” he said. “It definitely pushed me to go even harder knowing that it was going to be a little problem. I was just making sure that I could overcome whatever was in my way.”
The top performance of the day for the Coyotes, though, was Michael De La Cruz, who took down an intensely scrappy Haven Garcia of PSJA High to take first in the 152-pound class and move to a perfect 21-0 on the year.
After sparring with Garcia occasionally over the summer, De La Cruz knew how necessary it would be to get off to a quick start and stay the aggressor to emerge victorious.
“Everybody’s doing the same thing with their skills, so a big part of it is just how badly you want it. Working hard and never quitting, that will show you the results,” De La Cruz said. “You’ve just got to attack, attack, attack. If you attack, there’s a very, very high chance of winning a match and dominating. I just had to attack first and get ahead first.”
The Huskies were also extremely dominant on the mat again after a strong initial showing Friday.
Cerda ran away with a first-place victory in the 132-pound class, topping PSJA Memorial’s Jonathan Castillo 21-6 to push his record to 14-0. Bonilla also remained undefeated and moved to 17-0 on the season after winning the first-place title in the 195-pound class.
Overall, Juarez-Lincoln hammered the competition in the upper weight classes, as Manuel Torres took first in the 182-pound class, and Mario Tijernia and Adrian Hernandez met one another in the 285-pound title bout and took first and second, respectively.
The Juarez-Lincoln boys took first place as a team by a whopping 45.5 point margin, while La Joya High’s big day vaulted the team up the leaderboard to edge McAllen Rowe and finish second with 108 points. Together, the Coyotes and Huskies placed wrestlers in the top three of 10 of the 14 weight classes represented.
PSJA MEMORIAL’S ALVARADO, ROWE’S LOZANO STAY HOT
No two wrestlers had a more difficult slog just to get to their title matches than PSJA Memorial’s Abel Alvarado and McAllen Rowe’s Petey Lozano.
Alvarado, who’s ranked second in his weight class among 5A Texas wrestlers according to wrestlingtexas.com, had to throw all his effort into advancing past the semifinal round where he wound up with a tight matchup against La Joya’s then-unbeaten Ochoa.
Then in the finals, he quickly took down Edcouch-Elsa’s Mario Treviño in 91 seconds for the 113-pound title despite coming into the tournament underweight.
“I weighed a lot lighter than I usually do. I got sick a while back, but I worked hard for it,” Alvarado said. “It feels good. It kind of gave me a better mentality also going into it, like I had a little downfall and had to work harder to get back into it.”
Lozano’s path was just as treacherous, as he had to overcome a big test from La Joya’s Gonzalez in the 145-pound semifinals before topping Vanguard Academy’s Iker Sanchez less than two minutes into the title match.
“I set the tone for the match. Off the bat I went for the pick and I was able to get it,” Lozano said of his title bout. “My semifinals match against Jacob (Gonzalez) though, he’s an amazing wrestler, has beautiful technique and is really good. It was sad to see each other in the semifinals. I would have loved to wrestle him again in the finals, but it was an amazing match against him.”
PSJA’S VILLANUEVA CAPTURES TEAM, INDIVIDUAL TITLES
No team had as complete of a performance on the boys and girls sides, though, as PSJA High. The Bears’ boys notched a fifth-place finish, while the Bears’ girls rallied to secure first place as a team in the final match of the afternoon.
Leading up to that high-stakes moment, however, PSJA High started racking up first-place finishes all around the gym.
Senior Max Barrera, the 12th-ranked 6A wrestler in his weight class state-wide, took Edcouch-Elsa’s Osvaldo Cuellar to the mat and pinned him in 56 seconds to seize the 120-pound class title.
On the opposite end of the gym, Teresa Solis and Nayeli Hernandez earned hard-fought wins in the 128- and 119-pound class title bouts. Both remained undefeated on the season with their victories, as Solis moved to 3-0 and Hernandez improved to 14-0.
But the moment of the day came down to the last match of them all between PSJA’s Jessica Villanueva and Edinburg Economedes’ Jenna Hernandez. The Bears needed a Villanueva win to secure the team title after battling neck and neck with Sharyland Pioneer all weekend.
Villanueva stole the show in her first career first-place match, grabbing Hernandez’s leg and bringing her to the mat to execute the tournament title-clinching pin. The Bears edged the Diamondbacks by 3.5 points to take first.
“Since I was moving around she kept trying to put my head down, but I made her move with me, went for my shots, finished them and it all worked out,” Villanueva said. “I was really happy because this was my first finals match, so it was really exciting. It feels really good and exciting because I got first and got enough points for the girls to finish first.”