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Wrestling team places third at All-City Championship but individual wrestlers take gold

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By Giping Huang

Junior team captain Jonah Nascimento pins his opponent and takes gold in his weight class at the All-City Championship on Feb. 17. Photo by Christina Kan

The wrestling team placed third at the All-City Championship on Feb. 17 at The Academy High School, where they competed against many SFUSD schools. Despite Lowell winning many duals during the preliminary rounds, they also fell short of wins and pins. The team especially needed more pins, as they were already behind points due to the forfeiting of heavier weight classes. Other schools, such as Lincoln and Galileo, had complete lineups and didn’t lose any points. After the preliminary rounds ended, it was announced that Lowell was third in the championship. Then it was time for the finals.

Junior team captain Giovani Thai wrestles an Academy Wolf during preliminaries. Photo by Christina Kan

Wrestlers who came out victorious during the preliminary rounds competed in the finals in order to qualify for the CIF State Championship on Feb 25. Although the wrestlers still gained points for the team during the finals, the purpose of the round is mainly about getting these individual finalists to States.

Despite this championship being a boys’ tournament (there is also a girls’ championship), three girls from Lowell participated in the lineup: freshman Viviana Ojeda (108), senior Brittney Dare (113), and sophomore Daniela Romo (128). As it turns out, Lowell was the only school that had girls competing. Head coach Michael Wise decided to put in these three girls because he felt that since they were more experienced than the other boys in these weight classes, who are mostly first-years, Lowell would have more chances of winning.

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After the preliminary rounds ended, there was a 15-minute intermission to give finalist wrestlers time to prepare, mentally and physically, for their upcoming dual. After the break ended, announcers introduced, one-by-one, the wrestlers and their opponents. The wrestlers then came to the middle of the mat and shook hands with their opponents. After all the introductions were done, the All-City finals finally began.

“It is all about hustling and making sure that you can last longer than your opponent.”

The first to compete was junior team captain Giovani Thai (120). In a previous dual, Thai lost to his opponent from Galileo by one point. As soon as the announcer introduced Thai’s opponent — a reigning champion — he knew that this was a chance for him to redeem himself. “I was thinking change is in the air as of now,” Thai said. Throughout the dual, Thai took great shots at his opponent and remained aggressive. He didn’t allow his rival to take a break and fight back. “It is all about hustling and making sure that you can last longer than your opponent,” Thai said. He was able to emerge victorious by decision.

The next wrestler from Lowell to compete was junior team captain Jonah Nascimento (132). He faced off against a wrestler from Washington. Although Nascimento suffered a recent ankle injury, his aggressive and agile playstyle remained. Proving how quick Nascimento is on his feet, he was able to pin within 25 seconds.

Sophomore Michael Ryaboy takes down his opponent during finals. Photo by Christina Kan

“Last year, my mentality was just to survive finals. This year, my mentality [is] to dominate.”

Soon after, it was sophomore Michael Ryaboy’s (138) turn to compete against a Wolf. Despite Ryaboy being defeated in last year’s finals and the fact that he had a concussion in the middle of the season, he wrestled harder than ever and was able to defeat his opponent 6–2 by decision. “Last year, my mentality was just to survive finals,” Ryaboy said. “This year, my mentality [is] to dominate.”

Continuing Lowell’s winning streak was senior team captain Sanchez O’Leary (145). Befitting his title of overall team MVP, O’Leary has been consistently pinning his opponents in a flash. This dual was no different. Within the first period, he pinned his Balboa opponent.

On the mat and off, O’Leary has been key to Lowell’s success. Besides getting pins, he often practices with less experienced fellow Lowell wrestlers and helps them improve. “I really enjoyed wrestling in the room with Sanchez,” Ryaboy said. “It’s going to be difficult to find someone else who can challenge me as much as he does.”

Freshman Caden Chan (right) aims for his opponent’s leg. Photo by Christina Johnson

The last Lowell competitor was freshman Caden Chan, who had a suspenseful dual with his Galileo opponent. Chan started off the dual strong with a takedown, gaining two points. However, his opponent escaped, gaining one point. Undeterred, Chan took him down again and the two struggled. Eventually, they went out of bounds and had to reset their positions. Chan was at an advantage while his opponent was in referee position. From there, Chan took down his opponent who escaped once again.

This happened multiple times with scores stacking for both wrestlers. Scores were slowly being added and tied: 4–4 to 6–4 to 6–5 to 6–6. Tension was high. Teammates from both sides were cheering for their respective school. “Caden, Caden, Caden” was heard throughout the entire gymnasium. Breaking this stalemate, Chan took down his rival and was trying to pin him. The crowd was yelling, “Pin him, pin him!” Chan fulfilled the crowds’ command and pinned his opponent.

Junior team captain Jonah Nascimento (left) and senior team captain Sanchez O’Leary win gold in their weight classes.

All five finalists: junior team captain Giovani Thai (120), junior team captain Jonah Nascimento (132), sophomore Michael Ryaboy (138), and senior team captain Sanchez O’Leary (145) defeated their opponents, took gold in their respective weight classes, and are going to compete in States.

Despite Lowell not being crowned champions, individual wrestlers seized the mat during finals. “The team had some ups and downs prior to the finals, but in the finals, it was sweet,” Thai said. “Nobody could stop us. We were just rampaging consecutively.”

What’s next after All-City?

For the next two weeks, wrestlers who qualified for States are going to be working twice as hard and making sure that they are extra prepared. “We make sure that we are improving and we make sure that we are ready to compete at the state level because state level is no joke,” Thai said. “People laugh at [All-City] which is kind of sad.”

Since wrestling is one of the toughest state championships in the country and there are nationally ranked wrestlers competing, Wise knows that States will be difficult. However, he believes that the wrestlers will be able to win some duals. “Of all the schools who send teams, Lowell and Washington are the only ones that ever actually win matches there.” he said.

What about next season?

With seniors leaving, the team is uncertain of how the season will be like next year. However, they know that they will be able to work through such uncertainty and reclaim the title of champion. Ryaboy is eager to do his part next season. “My goals are to win matches in All-City Championships,” Ryaboy said. “Pin finals. Pin my way to States and make a mark.”

*February 24, 2018 at 11 p.m. correction: A previous version of this story referred to “the possibility of Wise retiring.” For clarification, head coach Michael Wise has no intentions of retiring any time soon. The Lowell apologizes for this error.*

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Wrestling team places third at All-City Championship but individual wrestlers take gold