A year after not medaling in the Reno Tournament of Champions, EJ Parco returned and showed just how far he’s come. The same can be said for all of his Los Gatos High wrestling teammates.
Parco won the 144-pound division at the renowned tournament on Dec. 18, highlighting a slew of impressive Wildcats’ performances. Freshman sensation Antonio Rodriguez (113 pounds) and sophomore standout Dylan Pile (165 pounds) took home third-place medals, and junior Timmy Murabito took fifth at 138 pounds to round out the top Los Gatos placers and help lead the team to a solid 11th-place finish.
The Wildcats also had Anthony Ramirez, Joseph Ramirez, Lucas Pannell, Om Shastri, Ojas Shastri, Peter Bowen, Teddy Smith and Stewart Cornelius competing in Reno, with Pannell and Joseph Ramirez each going 4-2 in their respective weight classes.
The Reno TOC brings in most of the top prep wrestling programs from the Western U.S. and serves as an early season barometer for some of the best wrestlers and teams as they prepare for their respective dual league meet seasons in January.
Wildcats coach Greg Varela was proud of all of his athletes for shining in Reno, noting the improvement is all across the board.
“My favorite thing about coaching is watching these kids grow and learn right before your eyes,” he said. “It’s exciting to watch them turn the corner.”
Parco went 10-0 over the grueling three-day event, concluding with a decisive 7-2 win over St. John Bosco’s Joseph Antonio. Parco thrived in the white-knuckle matches, winning a 4-3 decision in his first match. In the semifinals, Parco beat Gilroy’s Maxximus Martinez, 7-4.
“Maxximus Martinez is an animal,” Varela said. “We’re going to wrestle him probably three to four times before the State Meet: probably at Mid-Cals, Doc B [Buchanan], and probably wrestle him at the section [CCS] tournament God willing they both end up in the finals. It’s going to be back and forth—he’ll win some and we’ll win some. It’s whoever is better on that day.”
Winning a Reno TOC championship speaks volumes on a wrestler’s talent level, work ethic and focus.
“EJ was amazing,” Varela said. “It’s a great feeling, a great confidence booster. Last year he didn’t even place, so it’s been a progression of him getting better and better. This just shows how much improvement he’s made over the last year. It’s huge for him.”
Varela said even though Parco has always been good on top, he’s added an extra dimension to his top game which has made him more versatile. Parco has also become more aggressive on his feet, scoring more takedowns in the process.
Rodriguez also produced some memorable performances, coming up clutch as he went through his 113-pound bracket. After an opening-round bye, Rodriguez squared off with the No. 1 seed, Roseburg’s Gage Singleton, an Oregon state champion.
Rodriguez won 9-8 and followed that up with an impressive 7-5 decision victory. The freshman’s only loss came to the powerful Walnut sophomore Ronnie Ramirez, who is ranked No. 1 in the state.
“What I told Antonio on the drive home is you’re like a young superhero who doesn’t quite know your potential yet, but you know you have something special,” Varela said. “All of those Marvel movies and guys developing their power and coming into their own, that’s what I was trying to relate to him. You’re just like Spider-Man and just starting to realize you’ve got something special, but it’s not just something you rest on but something you develop. There’s going to be highs and lows and you have to keep honing those skills to really understand how good you can be. He hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.”
Pile has been an inspiration coming back from an injury that sidelined him for his entire freshman season last year. His Reno TOC run was nothing short of memorable, as he avenged a loss to Sunnyside’s Michael Avelar in the earlier rounds to lock up third place.
Varela praised Pile for coming back strong after missing an entire year due to injury.
“The pain of injury is not the hardest part—the mental part of sitting and watching all your friends wrestle while you can’t is,” Varela said. “They’re learning, growing and having success, and it weighs on you a little bit. Going into the season we wanted to see him wrestle free and not worry about the knee and so far doctors have given him a full recovery. That knee is stronger than before the surgery. It is rebuilt, strong and everything tests above level. To Dylan’s credit, he’s attacked the season without any hesitation of his knee.”
Varela gave credit for how Pile learned from his earlier loss to Avelar and won the “chess game” in their second match for third place.
“When it’s between two equally talented guys, it becomes a chess match, and Dylan lost the first chess match,” Varela said. “We weren’t upset. We talked to him on what mistakes he made strategically on the mat. He learned from them and won the chess match the second time and it was great for him to rebound and get that win.”
Varela gave credit to his assistant coaches Danny Chaid, Victor Daza and Brandon Dariano for fostering a thriving, competitive team environment conducive for learning and development which ultimately leads to mat success.
Murabito went 6-2, winning all six of his matches by decision. Three of those victories were by two points or less, and both of Murabito’s losses came to top-ranked caliber wrestlers.
“Timmy has made a huge improvement from last year,” Varela said. “I think he got beat up pretty good last year at this tournament and now we’re not outclassed when we wrestle these top guys.”
Varela said Murabito’s sudden-death 3-1 victory over Skyler Hickman of Canyon View High epitomizes how far he’s come. Varela said Hickman beat Murabito the last time the two wrestled 18 months ago. Since then, Murabito closed the gap.
“That kid beat us pretty good and for Timmy to beat him in overtime shows his growth and how much time and commitment he’s put in,” Varela said. “Timmy is hitting his stride and it’s a huge confidence booster for him to show tremendous heart and guts in overtime. We’re really proud of his effort and growth as a wrestler. I don’t think people who watched him in the seventh or eighth grade were thinking this kid would one day be a medalist at Reno TOC or a state placer, but I think it’s in the cards for him.”