NU’s select few Nevada Union sends three into state championships
Dial up the cell phone of any one of Nevada Union’s three qualifiers for the California State Wrestling Championships and you’ll be treated to some tunes while you wait for them to pick up.
Give NU sophomore Jake Purdy a ring and Slum Village’s “Call Me” is what you get. Call up senior Jake Cena and you get a taste of Journey’s “Don’t stop believing.” And while you wait for Miner senior Matt Manuel, the vibrant strings of a classical music piece fills your phone’s receiver.
But not only do the three Miners have a wide array in musical tastes, they each also head into this weekend’s state finals with their own success stories.
Manuel is the wily veteran, having qualified for the state meet for the second-straight season. Last year, after recovering from knee surgery that sidelined him for most of his junior campaign, Manuel won two and lost two matches at the state finals.
Cena is the comeback story of this year, getting back on the mat after a serious bout of osteochondritis in his knee, a condition in which fragments of bone or cartilage break loose in the joint, forced him to sit out his entire junior year and threatened to end his senior season before it even got started.
And Purdy? He’s the wide-eyed youngster, enjoying his run through the state tournament while picking up pointers from his senior teammates and gaining experience for the two high school wrestling seasons still ahead for him.
“I’ve looked up to them a lot, especially as a freshman,” Purdy said of Cena and Manuel. “It’s great to able to look up to someone like that and also have somebody else there, too.”
Purdy, who finished sixth in the 103-pound class at last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet, will make his debut at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena on Friday morning.
He’ll face Liberty High School’s Paul Gomez, also a sophomore, who was ranked No. 1 in the North Coast before finishing as a section runner-up last week. The winner will face Valhalla junior Tony Espinoza, who took fourth-place in the San Diego Section.
“It was kind of a goal, but it’s not something I knew I was going to do,” Purdy said of qualifying for state. “I don’t want to say if I don’t place ‘oh well,’ because I am going to go out there and try to place. But if I don’t, I’ll set bigger goals and try to place next year.
“That’s what I’m trying to do, get better every year, set goals higher and higher and then try to achieve them.”
Having now achieved the goal he set for his comeback season – qualifying for the state meet – Cena says he’s now adjusting his own expectations for this weekend.
“I was just thinking about making state and when I did, it was so huge … it was pretty exciting,” said Cena, who also took sixth place at the Masters meet. “But I feel like I’ve gotten even better, so I kind of feel like it’s not right to call it quits there, because I’ve got more to do.
“So I guess my goal now is to place at state.”
There’s no doubt that will be tough task right from the start. In the opening round of the 135-pound bracket, Cena will toe the line with Clovis West senior Nick Fisher, who not only won the Central Section title but also is ranked No. 1 in the state by the California Wrestler’s Newsletter. The winner will face Granada Hills Charter’s Escobar Sebastian, the Los Angeles Section champion.
Cena said he’s familiar with Fisher because Manuel wrestled him earlier this season. And though Manuel lost the match, Cena said, Nevada co-head coaches Paul Gross and Shane Valdez saw some areas open for attack, such as takedowns, where Manuel found success.
“Hopefully I can wrestle smarter than him and come out with the win,” Cena said. “But it is going to be tough. It’s like what Shane said, every year at state there are people who place that weren’t supposed to place. And there are people who were supposed to place or win, who don’t.
“Coming into sections, I wasn’t ranked or even mentioned. But I beat kids I wasn’t supposed to beat. I did it there and hopefully I can just do it again.”
Manuel made it back to Bakersfield again, but he’s not just satisfied by making an appearance. He didn’t hesitate to share his goal for this weekend’s tournament.
“Placing,” said Manuel, who finished third in the 130-pound class of the Masters. “I’m really confident. I’m feeling really good.
“Last year gave me a lot of experience and I’m feeling really fresh and good to go.”
He’ll open his second trip to the state finals with a match against Red Bluff freshman Dillon Reed, who was the runner-up in the Northern Section. The winner will face Lemoore senior Julian Perez, a fourth-place finisher in the Central Section.
“Class 130 is pretty wide open,” Manuel said. “No one is really set for seedings in that none’s really dominating the weight class. There will a lot of upsets.”
Manuel said he’s happy to have both Purdy and fellow senior Cena, with whom he matches up with in practice sessions, joining him for the trip to Bakersfield.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “(Purdy) has been working really hard and he’s gotten really good.
“I’m really glad (Cena) is going after all his injuries. We wrestle together and we’ve been able to push each other and help each other out. He helps me stay focused.”
Considering all three of the Miners will be competing with the cream of California’s crop – the top 40 wrestlers in each class – this week, that focus will likely play as large of a role as talent and muscle. And according to Gross, who has helped groom them for the state meet, all three are ready to take a shot at the state’s best.
“For Matt and for Jake, this is going to be the pinnacle of their high school career,” Gross said of his seniors. “And for Jake (Purdy), I’m just happy to see him go. It’s going to be great experience for the years to come.
“I think they all will peak at just the right time. I think we’re going to see some great things from them all this weekend. They’re right on target for state.”
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4240.
CIF state wrestling finals
Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield
Tickets: $8-$25; Parking: $5
More info: http://www.ticketmaster.com
103 pounds – Jake Purdy (Nevada Union) vs. Paul Gomez (Liberty)
130 pounds – Matt Manuel (Nevada Union) vs. Dillon Reed (Red Bluff)
135 pounds – Jake Cena (Nevada Union) vs. Nick Fisher (Clovis West)
More info: http://www.cifstate.org
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