WATSONVILLE — The way second-year head coach Armando Gonzalez sees it, the Monterey Bay League and the Central Coast Section only have two or three more years before Monte Vista Christian takes over.
Ranked seventh in the CCS as a team by The California Wrestler, M.V.C. is loaded with young talented wrestlers. The Mustangs have four kids that are ranked within the top eight in their respective weight divisions, and three others that fall within the top 22. Of those seven, only one is a senior and five are underclassmen.
M.V.C. last year was ranked in the teens to start the year and finished 19th at the CCS meet, a product of having little preparation heading into the season after Gonzalez took over on short notice.
This campaign, Gonzalez has had all of his wrestlers enter the season in tiptop shape.
“We’ve come back much, much improved from last year,” Gonzalez said. “The way the kids are working, we have a bright future.”
In that future, Gonzalez sees league and CCS titles. Not an easy task when considering the Mustangs compete in the same league as state power Gilroy High, which has won the MBL crown 18 years running and the CCS title each of the last 15 seasons.
Gilroy is currently ranked fifth in California as a team, and has eight wrestlers ranked within the top nine in the state in their respective weight class.
Gonzalez is very familiar with Gilroy’s success. He helped spark the program’s dominance nearly 20 years ago while serving as its head coach.
“This is the strongest team they’ve had, I think, ever,” said Gonzalez, who also helped Live Oak High in Morgan Hill find success a few years before joining M.V.C. “They are stacked from the bottom to the top with talent…but give us a couple of years. We’ll get there.”
Freshman Christian Cabaug is at the front of the Mustangs’ gifted group.
The younger brother of former Oak Grove High greats Alex Cabaug and Angelique Ward and son of Yerba Buena standout Genrio, Cabaug is ranked second in CCS at 106 pounds, and already has three tournament titles to his name.
“We all knew coming into this year he was going to make an impact,” Gonzalez said. “He’s got a chance to be one of the greats. He’s got our best shot to win a CCS title.”
Junior Amman Klair is also expected to compete for a section championship at the end of the season. A fourth-place finisher at 132 pounds at last year’s CCS meet, Klair is ranked second at 145 pounds, and has two tournament titles and a runner-up finish this season.
“Last year I was a little bit more nervous, and I basically forgot everything I was doing while I was wrestling,” said Klair, whose younger brother Amit is a promising freshman. “Last year, I learned how to wrestle. I’m more relaxed now. I’m less nervous.”
Sophomores Edward Zamora (126 pounds), Anthony Shepherd (285) and Justin Teporten (152) are ranked eighth, 18th and 22nd, respectively, while freshman Nathan Fernandez (220) is ranked 16th.
Mateo Montoya is the lone senior on the team with a CCS ranking. He is ranked fourth at 120 pounds.
Montoya, a captain this season with Amman, took fifth at 113 pounds at last year’s section meet, but is expected to compete for a spot in the final this season.
Montoya was a two-time state qualifier at Arizona, but received a rude awakening last season after moving to California. After starting the year unranked, his fifth-place finish at CCS was considered a success. But in order to get there Montoya had to completely rebuild his skill set from the ground up.
“In Arizona, it’s all about who’s got the biggest muscles, who’s not going to quit,” Montoya said. “Coach Mondo, he’s really brought the technique into my life. He’s made me 10 times better than what I was.”
Being the elder statesman, Montoya has taken on the responsibility as the “team dad.” Along with making sure that everyone has their wrestling shoes and gear, Montoya has helped bring the team together while also keeping them focused.
He said he’s a little sad to think the program’s best days will come without him around to see them, but he’s happy to be the one laying the groundwork.
“It’s kind of upsetting me,” Montoya said. “I wish I was younger. I wish I could stick around. But they’re going to be great. I know for a fact that we’re going to have the best team in a couple years.”
Here’s a look at the five other teams from the Pajaro Valley:
Spearheaded by senior Abel Pena, the defending CCS champion at 120 pounds, the Wildcatz are ranked 18th in the section.
A season after ending the program’s near-decade drought at CCS, Pena entered the 2017-18 campaign ranked No. 2 at 120 pounds behind Gilroy’s Nicholas Aguilar.
Pena has taken first place at the Chukchansi Invitational and the Pat Lovell Holiday Wrestling Classic.
Along with Pena, Watsonville head coach Josh Castillo has three other wrestlers that are ranked within 13 in CCS at their respective weight.
A MBL champion and CCS quarterfinalist last season, sophomore Joaquin Mosqueda is ranked seventh at 113 pounds.
Junior Luke Meyers has bounced back nicely after suffering a season-ending injury early on last season and is ranked 12th at 145 pounds.
Tyson George took eighth at 126 pounds at last year’s MBL finals and missed the CCS meet. Ranked 13th at the same weight, George, a section meet qualifier as a freshman at 113 pounds, will try to make it back to CCS this season.
On the girls’ side, Watsonville has a trio of wrestlers ranked within the top seven, and is ranked 14th as a team.
Senior Gianna Mosqueda has finished runner-up each of the last two seasons at different weight classes, and is the favorite to win the CCS title at 143 pounds this time around. A two-time state meet qualifier, Mosqueda is the top ranked wrestler at her weight.
Senior Bryanna Crick took the section by storm during her first two seasons at
Watsonville, finishing runner-up in each, but was never able to find the same magic last season. The two-time state qualifier is ranked fourth at 189 pounds and is a dark horse to earn her third trip to a CCS championship match.
Junior Angela Torres, a CCS qualifier as a freshman, is ranked seventh at 101 pounds.
Senior Irepan Romero will try to become Pajaro Valley’s first-ever CCS placer.
A fifth-place finisher in the MBL and section qualifier last season, Romero is ranked ninth in CCS at 152 pounds.
Rigoberto Herrejon (195), Alejandro Vasquez (220) and Juan Rodriguez (285) are also standouts for the Grizzlies.
The Condors do not have a wrestler ranked within the top 22 of their respective weight class yet, but Arturo Perez is expect to crack the list as the season goes on.
Perez finished fourth at 162 pounds at the Apple Cider Classic in Watsonville a week ago.
Jesse Ramos (140), Lazaro Martinez (154) and Andrew Bernabe (147) also wrestle for N.M.C.
Coaching his last season for the Mariners, Reggie Roberts again has the largest team in the county with 55 wrestlers filling out his youthful roster.
Senior Keegan Dutton-Jones is Aptos’ highest ranked wrestler, sitting in sixth at 182 pounds a year after winning the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League crown and taking fifth at CCS at 170 pounds.
Junior Marcos Reyes is ranked eighth at 170 pounds. The standout two-sport athlete was the runner-up at 160 pounds in last year’s SCCAL meet and went 3-2 at CCS.
Senior Evan Carrillo is 17th at 126 pounds. He should be the favorite to win his second individual league title, and advance to the section meet for the fourth straight season.
As a team, Aptos will be looking to send off Roberts’ with his eighth SCCAL title in the last nine years. Roberts has been with Aptos for the past 20 seasons.
The coach has arguably his strongest crop of female wrestlers in recent memory.
Three are ranked within the top seven in the CCS at their respective weight, and two others are ranked in the top 16.
Sophomore Camilia Barranco will have a good shot at winning a CCS championship a year after finishing fourth at 106 pounds. She is ranked second at 111 pounds.
Ranked fourth at 160 pounds, senior Emma Rodriguez will look to advance to her fourth straight section meet. She placed sixth at 143 pounds as a freshman and fourth at 150 pounds as a sophomore.
Senior Becca Faulk is ranked seventh at 170 pounds, and will try to improve on her sixth-place finish at 160 pounds at last year’s CCS meet.
Junior April Moreno (116) and sophomore Melli Crick (126) are ranked 14th and 16th, respectively, in their divisions.
In its second year as a program, St. Francis is starting to develop into a steady team.
Junior Justin Parker is back after a runner-up finish at 138 pounds in the SCCAL finals.
Ranked fifth at 152 pounds, Parker went 1-2 at last year’s CCS meet, but is expected to be a dark horse for a top-three finish this year.
Senior Felipe Padilla-Noriega took third in the SCCAL at 220 pounds, and is ranked 10th in the CCS at the same weight this season.
Roderick Howe (145) and Hunter Blinkenberg (152) will also be challengers at league finals near the end of the season.