The Los Gatos High wrestling team is returning to full strength just in time for some key tournaments and the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League season.
Virtually the entire Wildcats’ roster was wiped out by the flu for the last couple of weeks of 2022, reducing the wrestling room to a skeleton crew. However, as coach Greg Varela pointed out, if sickness was going to sweep aside the entire team, the timing was beneficial.
“We’d rather have this happen during Christmas break than during the four weeks leading up to State,” he said.
Los Gatos is ranked eighth in the state, second highest among all Central Coast Section teams behind Gilroy which is fourth. The Wildcats have six wrestlers ranked among the state’s top 15 in their respective weight classes, including EJ Parco (second at 145 pounds), Antonio Rodriguez (fifth at 113), Timmy Murabito (eighth at 138), Dylan Pile (eighth at 160), Anthony Ramirez (11th at 152), and Oleksandr Nyzhnyk (13th at 195).
Pile, a sophomore, is the comeback story of the year. He missed his entire freshman season due to a knee injury, but has returned showing none the worse for wear. After an opening-round bye, Pile went 7-1 in the 165-pound division to place third in the Reno Tournament of Champions Dec. 16-18.
During Pile’s run, he beat Gilroy’s Micah Porter 2-0 and avenged a loss to Sunnyside’s Michael Avelar in the third-place match by a 6-3 score. Pile won several close decisions, a testament to his ability to come through when it matters the most.
Varela said the best from Pile is yet to come, as Pile only started going live in late August.
“Dylan is healthy, strong and improving every match,” Varela said. “He does everything asked of him and is a coach’s dream. He’s got a great attitude when it comes to training and he’s hit the ground running. The best thing is he’s getting results and is still trying to figure out his style because after a year layoff it takes a while to get back into it. But he’s figuring it out.”
Parco, a junior, will be one of the five or six Los Gatos wrestlers competing in the Doc Buchanan Invitational—widely regarded as the one of the top 3 tournaments in the nation—Jan. 6-7 at Clovis High. Parco won Reno TOC in the 144-pound weight class and the Doc Buchanan will be just as tough if not tougher.
Parco has moved up one weight class after winning the Central Coast Section Championships at 138 last year, eventually taking fifth at State.
“EJ is better all around and worked on his overall game,” Varela said. “He’s always been good on top, but he’s added a couple of more things which makes his top game more versatile and not as predictable. And on his feet, he wasn’t as aggressive or as offensive as he is now. Now he’s getting more takedowns which comes from all the work and time he put in the off-season. That kid gets extra workouts in everyday.”
In Rodriguez, the future has arrived. The freshman sensation had a tremendous showing in Reno, taking third place at 113 pounds. After an opening-round bye, Rodriguez won a pair of close decisions, 9-8 and 7-5, then won his next two matches decisively, 5-0 and 12-0.
A 9-3 loss in the quarterfinals to Walnut’s Ronnie Ramirez was expected given Ramirez is the state’s top-ranked wrestler at 113 and older. However, Rodriguez responded in impressive fashion with two consecutive decision victories, including a 3-0 win in the third-place match over Poway’s Edwin Sierra, who is ranked sixth at 113.
Varela said even in defeat, Rodriguez’s match with Ramirez proved beneficial in many ways.
“We looked at it as an opportunity to go against the No. 1 seed,” Varela said. “Win or lose, we have the opportunity to wrestle the best. He took it that way and he understood it wasn’t an opportunity to waste or squander. And he made the most of it. Antonio had wrestled Ronnie in April and the kid completely destroyed us. Antonio came back in this match and yes he lost, but you really saw the progression. Ronnie handled us pretty good, but we did close the gap. We improved and did a lot of things better that we weren’t able to do last time. And beating Sierra was a real measuring stick against one of the state’s best. And he beat [Gage] Singleton the second time by a wider score.”
Varela is particularly excited for this year’s league season, which has a different format. In addition to the traditional two-team duel, there will be dates in which anywhere from four to all eight teams will be at the same site dueling. The latter happens at Los Gatos on Jan. 31, when the Wildcats duel Palo Alto at 4:30pm, Wilcox at 6 and Mountain View at 7:30.
The other duel is Lynbrook-Mountain View at 6.
“We’re super pumped and excited,” Varela said. “Having these tri-duels puts more people in the stands and makes it more of an event, so we’re looking forward to these big duels.”
After the Jan. 31 tri-duel, Los Gatos takes on Fremont High of Sunnyvale the very next day at Stanford University in what will likely decide the league championship. It’s a brutal turnaround but Varela wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I like challenging these kids and these kids like to be challenged,” he said. “I like doing things like this. It’s kind of another thing to get everyone going because we have different wrestlers at different levels. Everyone gets pumped for three-match duels because everyone’s points count, even if you lose your individual match. It gets everyone motivated and working a little harder from top to bottom in building more of that team atmosphere.”