The Sobrato High and Live Oak High wrestling teams represented themselves well in the Blossom Valley League Finals Feb. 11-12 at Overfelt High.
Despite having only eight out of a possible 14 wrestlers competing, Sobrato gave perennial power Evergreen Valley a scare. The Bulldogs finished as the runner-up with 159.5 points to Evergreen Valley’s 185. Live Oak had a solid showing and placed fourth with 130 points.
Sobrato nearly pulled off the title on the strength of individual victories from its Big Three of Aden Valencia (126 pounds), Clemente Holguin (145) and Zeke Lara (152). Michael Froess was runner-up at 132 pounds and Talyn Castellanos took third in his division.
Ricky Howe was Live Oak’s top placer, finishing second at 138 pounds. Three of his teammates—Pablo Robledo (120), Joshua Valdivia (126) and Ryan Emerton (182)—finished in third place. Valencia is the state’s No. 2-ranked wrestler, but few if any would be surprised if he ended up winning the CIF State Championships next week.
Barring an injury, the sophomore will cruise to a Central Coast Section title this Saturday. While he’ll no doubt have tougher competition at state, Valencia is feeling on point again after he dealt with a hamstring issue last month and a bout with Covid.
He’s gone up a couple of weight classes in the last year, which has been a transition at the elite national level.
“It’s been tough in some areas where I’ve taken a couple of hits because of the size discrepancy, but I make up for it by lifting in the room and getting stronger,” he said. “It just means I need to get better and refine my skills because size should never be an excuse (for not winning). So I’m just working on refining my skills and getting to that senior (Olympic) level as fast as I can.”
Fellow Sobrato sophomore Holguin has come on strong this season and will enter the CCS Championships ranked No. 2 at 145 pounds. Holguin has a high work rate, excels in top position and was happy to get in a lot of mat time after competing in just two tournaments prior to BVALs.
“It’s been a small season for me so just getting all this mat time was fun,” he said. “I’m excited for state. I’ve always watched my teammates go so I just want to get there and perform.”
Lara, a senior ranked No. 1 in the CCS at 152, is a Evergreen Valley-transfer and has experienced tremendous growth in the last year. He started training with Amateur Wrestling Academy in Gilroy and credited the club for helping him refine his skills and technique.
“They were able to bring me to the next level to wrestle in college,” Lara said. “I wanted my last year of high school wrestling to be strong and I think I’ve transitioned well to Sobrato. It was a crazy few first months, but once wrestling season got started, it was good.”
Sobrato’s meteoric rise has coincided with the arrival of coach Joel Valencia and his two children, Nyla and Aden. The girls’ competition took place a day before the boys’ league finals, and Sobrato had champions in two weight classes in Nyla Valencia at 111 pounds and Abbeygael Cabuag at 101 pounds. Both athletes steamrolled their competition, with Nyla spending all of 29 seconds—total—over two to three matches en route to victory.
The hard-working Froess, who took second to his friend Nathan Vasquez of Leland in the 132-pound final, credits the incredible competition and chemistry among his teammates for helping him develop into a top 10-ranked wrestler after not making the CCS tournament as a sophomore two years ago.
“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “I work with these guys, I consider them brothers. They push me every single day to make sure I’m the best wrestler I can be and I return that favor to them. It’s truly amazing when you struggle so much and you suffer alongside people you love, it really helps grow that bond closer and closer.”
Howe has come on strong after a late start to the season and Robledo also had a terrific tournament. Both wrestlers should climb into the section’s top 20 in their respective weight classes—perhaps even top 15—after their latest showings.
Acorns coach Sean Kelly challenged Howe last month to put time in the room and Howe stepped up and even surprised Kelly in the league finals. Howe’s most impressive moments came in his semifinal match.
“He showed some other stuff I didn’t think he really had,” Kelly said. “His performance was pretty spectacular.”
After a quick victory in his first match, Robledo knew what he had to do as he advanced in the tournament.
“I’ve got to keep my endurance up to be able to go three rounds,” said Robledo, who improved on his No. 5 seeding. “I have to be a lot better in my next couple of matches, a lot more creative with my stuff.”
Robledo transferred in from Central High and after the requisite paperwork and conditioning, got in only two dual league matches before going 4-1 in the league championships, with his only loss coming to the top seed.
“Pablo came out there fighting,” Kelly said. “He looked composed out there, too. I was proud of the boys because they were all pretty focused the whole time.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]