Golden match? Longtime Miners teammates search for strong finish
They’ve been through so much together during their four years as Nevada Union wrestling teammates, and this weekend, Zach Callas and Luke Manuel will share a common goal when they wrestle together one last time at the CIF/Les Schwab Tires State Championships in Bakersfield.
Both seniors are looking to fulfill long-time goals and win gold medals in their respective 38-man weight classes at the state tournament Friday and Saturday at Rabobank Arena. Both punched their tickets to state thanks to finishes last weekend at the Sac-Joaquin Section Tournament in Folsom, where Manuel won his 152-pound weight class and Callas placed second at 160 pounds.
This is a fitting way for the two Miners to go out, according to coach Shane Valdez.
“They are great kids who have worked very, very hard,” Valdez said. “They are examples of what we try to preach as coaches, that if you set some goals, set your mind to it and work hard, you can accomplish anything.”
No opponent can be overlooked at state, but even by that standard, both are facing exceptionally difficult openers Friday.
Manuel, 43-1 and ranked No. 1 statewide, opens against the winner between Modoc’s Travis Wood and Alhambra’s Jordan Abed. Wood is a three-time Northern Section champion who placed eighth at state as a 152-pounder last year. Abed is the No. 2 seed from the North Coast Section.
“He will be tough, but they’re all tough at this point,” Manuel said. “You’ve got to be mentally prepared for everybody. Really, this is what I’ve been training for since my freshman year – to be a state champion.”
Callas, now 37-5, opens against the state’s No. 1 ranked 160-pounder, Matt Boger of Buchanan, a two-time Central Section champion who qualified for state as a 171-pounder at Coalinga last year. It’s a difficult assignment, but one Callas is more than willing to accept.
” He’s No. 1 in the state, but everyone in the state tournament is tough, so there’s not that much of a difference,” Callas said with a shrug. ” I’m going to have to wrestle him some time if I want to achieve my goal. He wrestled at 171 pounds last year, so I’m going to assume he’s strong, but the way I’m looking at it, he’s beatable. I’m just going to wrestle my match.”
Callas has come far since he began wrestling at Lyman Gilmore Middle School. He broke into Nevada Union’s varsity lineup as a sophomore then came back last year and qualified for state, where he posted a 3-2 record, with both losses coming against opponents that got to the medal podium. Among his list of wins this season is a 3-2 decision over Nevada 4A state 152-pound champion Zeth St. Claire of Cimarron-Memorial (Las Vegas).
“I’ve definitely improved a lot,” Callas said. “I started wrestling freestyle after my sophomore season and that’s made a big difference. That’s the reason I’m going to state for the second time now.”
Manuel absorbed his only loss of the season in December by a 7-4 score against Jason Welch of Las Lomas in the Reno Tournament of Champion semifinals. A month later, he beat Welch to win gold at the Five Counties Invitational in Orange County. Give credit to a lot of mat time.
“I started in freestyle when I was in first grade and I’ve pretty much been wrestling year-round since I was in sixth grade,” he said. “That’s what it takes. When you get to state, most people are wrestling year-round. There is an occasional kid who can make it on talent alone, but that is rare.”
Rather than winning matches with superior physical strength, Manuel wins with superior technique.
“It’s more important to have good technique and a good mental approach,” he said. “I’ve seen bigger guys lose to twigs. It happens all the time in tournaments.”
A good indicator of Manuel’s experience can be seen in another statistic – Welch is the only wrestler to take him down all season. Manuel only allowed four points in four matches, all on escapes, en route to his section gold medal this past weekend.
“Luke is extremely hard to score on,” Valdez said. “He’s got good solid takedowns, he’s solid on top and he’s very hard to take down.”
All the work has paid off for Manuel in another way because he has signed to wrestle at Purdue University.
“I’m excited about going there,” Manuel said. “I like the coach (Jessie Reyes). I like the division they’re in. They have a real solid team and it’s a nice college, too.”
Callas would like to wrestle at the next level, he’s just not sure where that will be yet.
“I’m looking at Fullerton and Davis. Right now, I’m just waiting to see what kind of offers I can get,” Callas said.
Oh, yes, Callas and Manuel share one other common bond. They’ve enjoyed the benefits of facing each other on a daily basis at practice all season.
“I’ve been lucky to have Zach. It especially helps that he is bigger because that makes the other kids I wrestle in my weight class seem easier,” Manuel said.
“Luke has been an awesome training partner,” Callas added. “Having him as a drill partner has helped me learn a lot, and being teammates, we always encourage each other.”
And this weekend, they will be on California’s biggest stage with a chance to pursue gold as teammates one more time.
“They weren’t the best wrestlers when they started – Luke went three straight years to the TOC, which is junior high state, and he never won a match – but look where he is now,” Valdez said. “Both of these kids have they’ve shown that it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you finish.
” I know I haven’t been coaching for very long, but I imagine it can’t get much better than having kids like that – they’re class acts both on and off the mat.”
To contact Dave Price, e-mail him via email@example.com or call 477-4240.
Brackets at a glance
154 pounds: Luke Manuel is ranked No. 1, Las Lomas sophomore Jason Welch is No. 2. They have split in two meetings this season. Welch, the state 152-pound runner-up last year, won four matches by technical fall by a combined score of 86-26 at the North Coast Section Tournament this past weekend. Others to watch: George Munoz of West Covina is the Southern Section champion and placed sixth at state as a sophomore 145-pounder last year; Willy Pendleton of Lemoore is a two-time Central Section champion who has lost twice to Manuel this season and lost two weeks ago at the division tournament semifinals in double overtime against McLane’s Frank Montez; Travis Wood of Modoc placed eighth at state as a 152-pounder last year.
160 pounds: Central Section champ Matt Boger of Buchanan is ranked No. 1 and Sac-Joaquin Section champ Justin Danz of Ponderosa No. 2. Others to watch: Greg Crane of Fremont placed fifth at state as a 152-pounder last year and returns as a three-time Central Coast Section champion; Southern Section champ Chad Hemerson of Calvary Chapel and Victor Carazo of Grace Davis are state veterans.
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