Miners strike SFL gold | TheUnion.com

Miners strike SFL gold

Considering what he’s been through the past year, one would have expected a bit more emotion out of Nevada Union senior

Rafael Iriarte when his armed was raised Thursday afternoon as a Sierra Foothill League champion.

But after he beat Del Oro’s Shane Plummer 7-3 in the finals at Ali Gymnasium, NU’s 215-pound champion just took the win in stride.

His business-like approach seemed surprising because a year ago, Iriarte was sidelined by a serious knee injury that kept him out of the postseason altogether. After undergoing surgery to reconstruct the anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee, Iriarte has worked hard to simply get back on the mat. Yet even claiming his first league crown wasn’t much of a cause for celebration.

“It was good,” said Iriarte, one of four Miners to claim a SFL title. “It was good to beat Del Oro, but my goal this year is to get to state.”

In other words, don’t expect any celebrations out of Iriarte until he makes that dream a reality.

“He knows that he’s not done,” said NU coach Nick Saldivar. “He’s on a mission. We all are. The kids that lost today know it’s not over. And the kids who won, it’s the same thing.

“It doesn’t matter where you start. It’s where you finish.”

NU finished with 12 of the 13 wrestlers in its lineup qualifying for next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Tournament. Eight of the Miners fought for first place on Thursday, while four more competed for third and fourth.

Joining Iriarte as a 2010 SFL champion were juniors Robin Callas and Tyler Szura, along with senior Jacob Purdy.

Szura, who took the 103-pound crown last year, won the 112-pound weight class by defeating Granite Bay’s Andrew Broadland 7-1 in the finals.

Purdy, a state qualifier and SFL champ at 112 pounds in ’09, returned to the top spot on the podium at 119 pounds this year. He pinned Del Oro’s Danny Jacoshenk in the championship round.

Callas, an SFL champ at 119 pounds in 2008 and a third-place finisher at 135 as a sophomore, returned to the head of his class at 140 pounds by winning a 6-3 championship battle over Del Oro’s Kevin Burrage, who was the SFL 145-pound champion last year.

“I lost to him at Asics (Foothill Tournament) by one point in the semifinals,” Callas said of a previous matchup with Burrage. “I’ve been training specifically for him. I had him locked in.”

Although four Miners might have come up short in the championship round Thursday, settling for second place, the fact NU had eight competing for an SFL crown was a distinct improvement over having just three in the finals last year.

Callas said Saldivar, his second-year coach, is the main reason.

“I’ve known Nick ever since I started freestyle (wrestling),” Callas said. “And if I hadn’t done freestyle, I probably wouldn’t have even placed at this tournament. It makes a huge difference.

“But the real difference is our attitude this year. We’ve worked so hard that we know we we’re going to win. It’s just a huge difference. Night and day.”

Among those joining NU’s champs in the finals Thursday was sophomore Julian Purdy, who lost 5-2 to Woodcreek’s Peter Santos at 125 pounds. NU senior 171-pounder Kyle Newman lost 10-6 to Roseville’s Ryan Fratto. And heavyweight Michael Champagne fell to Granite Bay’s Gavin Andrews.

Perhaps facing the toughest task in the title round for the Miners was senior 152-pounder Trevor Painter, who finished as a Sierra Foothill League runner-up for the third straight season. Painter, who finished second at 125 pounds in 2008 and at 140 pounds in 2009, fell 12-2 to the same opponent he faced in the championship round as last season.

But he’s no ordinary opponent. Del Oro senior Jesse Stafford, who won a league title for the third consecutive season, finished fourth in the CIF State Championships as a junior, is ranked No. 1 in the Sac-Joaquin Section and is ranked fourth in the state by TheCaliforniaWrestler.com.

“We both wrestled SAWA (Sacramento Area Wrestling Association), so we train together and know each other pretty well,” said Painter. “I think this is the sixth time we’ve wrestled.”

The two could meet again as soon as next week at the divisionals hosted by Oak Ridge. Also qualifying for the next round of competition for NU, by placing third or fourth Thursday, were Sawyer Mosel (fourth at 103 pounds), Josh Cena (fourth at 135), Abraham Fish (fourth at 145) and Devyn Grimes (fourth at 189).

“I’m happy that we’re sending more guys than we did last year,” Saldivar said. “But we had some matches that we should have won. Still, at the same time, it’s wrestling and it’s still not done.”

“I think we are the toughest league (in the section) this year. Individually, Ponderosa is really strong as a dual team. When it comes down to it, I think we are the strongest league in our division. But we’ll find out next week.

“It’s time to step it up again, to another level.”

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.

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