After a second consecutive fifth-place finish in the CIF State Wrestling Championships last season, EJ Parco knew he needed to keep on improving if he wanted to reach the summit.
And that’s exactly what the Los Gatos High senior has done. Currently ranked No. 3 in the state in the 150-pound weight class, Parco—along with teammates Antonio Rodriguez and Dylan Pile—are attempting to become the first Los Gatos High boys state champions in program history.
Following Parco’s fifth-place showing at 145 pounds at State last year, Wildcats coach Greg Varela had Parco work on finishing his matches with authority.
“Pushing all the way through and I definitely think I’ve improved on that,” Parco said.
One only has to look at Parco’s two matches with Gilroy High’s Daniel Zepeda—who won the state title at 132 pounds last year—as proof. Parco edged Zepeda 6-4 in the Reno Tournament of Champions in December and again at the Doc Buchanan Tournament in January, 3-2, in the Ultimate Tiebreaker.
“My matches with Zepeda both went into OT, and I think I pushed pretty hard through those matches,” he said.
A Stanford-signee, Parco has suffered just two losses all season, both to top-20 nationally ranked wrestlers. His most recent defeat came to Palm Desert High senior Brock Mantanona in the final of the Doc Buchanan, one of the toughest high school tournaments in the nation.
Mantanona prevailed 3-1 in Sudden Victory 1, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two meet again at State. Parco’s postseason begins Feb. 2-3 in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League Championships. From there, Parco has the Central Coast Section Northern Regional Meet, CCS Masters and CIF State Championships.
Parco likes how he’s been wrestling and the position he’s in.
“For sure, I’ve been getting my mindset ready the past couple of weekends,” he said. “Definitely been practicing pretty hard, lifting, doing all the necessary things to win that state championship.”
Parco has probably envisioned getting his hand raised in victory under the lights at Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield, the annual site of the State Championships.
“I’ve been thinking of State the past couple of months,” he said. “It’s been on my mind. It would mean a lot to win a state championship, obviously. I think I’m in the right spot mentally and physically, so it’s definitely there for me. I can definitely win it.”
To do it, he’ll need to best the likes of top-ranked Mantanona, No. 2 Miguel Estrada, No. 4 Laird Root and possibly Zepeda should he decide to move up a weight class.
“If I just tweak some things, keep working at it, I can beat those guys,” he said. “I feel I’m ready for those matches, playing a lot of scenarios in my mind.”
Parco’s career bears a resemblance to his brother Kyle, who is a redshirt junior at Arizona State and a three-time NCAA All-American. Kyle prepped at De La Salle, where he won the 2019 CIF State Championship at 132 pounds in his final opportunity.
Five years later, EJ looks to replicate what Kyle did. Quite the symmetry, but hardly a surprise. After all, the brothers grew up competing and practicing against each other, both in wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Together, they sharpened each other to the point where both developed into elite level wrestlers.
Since Kyle is four years older, EJ has always revered his older brother.
“He was always an idol for me,” EJ said. “I was always ready to chase him and have the same goals. His senior year he won state, so hopefully the same thing happens with me.”
Since Kyle—who has already completed enough units to graduate—still has athletic eligibility left, there’s a small chance the two could face off in college next year. EJ might take a redshirt year, but regardless, he has aspirations to win an NCAA championship and after that, excel at the highest level.
For now, of course, he’s laser focused on taking each match as they come, not looking ahead or taking things for granted.
“Outside the mat [room], I’m eating well, sleeping, getting my studies in,” he said. “One of the things I do sometimes is meditate after a run or hop in the sauna to focus my mind and get it alright.”
Parco loves the thrill of competition, which is why the Reno TOC and Doc B. have been the highlights of his season thus far.
“Those are the best moments, especially those high level matches when you know you’re facing a nationally-ranked wrestler,” Parco said. “It’s just fun to go out there and scrap.”
Parco’s scholarship to Stanford is a testament to his achievements on and off the mat. It’s well known Stanford has tougher admission requirements for incoming student-athletes compared to their Division I counterparts. Parco was deciding between Stanford and Arizona State, the latter because he would get to wrestle on the same team as Kyle.
However, the Cardinals won out in the end.
“Stanford has been one of my top colleges ever since I was a kid,” EJ said. “Once I signed with Stanford, it was a really big relief. I could focus on school again and wrestling.”