The Mother Lode League wrestling trio of Donivan Giangregorio, Elliot Houghten and Kodiak Stephens concluded their stellar high school seasons at the CIF State Wrestling Tournament, held Thursday through Saturday at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena.
“It was an amazing experience to have gotten the chance to wrestle at State,” said Calaveras High School sophomore Giangregorio, who finished the season 38-6.
The Sac-Joaquin Section Masters runner-up, DV Section and MLL champion at 182 pounds, Giangregorio had a first-round bye before dropping a 6-2 decision to Rancho Bernardo’s Javen Jovero.
He faced Kaimana McCreadie, of Irvine, in the consolation round of 16, winning by decision 6-0, then losing 8-3 to Bakersfield’s Jordan Annis.
“He wrestled well and will have two more years to try for a State medal,” said retired Calaveras wrestling coach Vince Bicocca, who, along with head coach Ryan Upchurch and assistants Brenden Sullivan and Doug Clark, cornered for Giangregorio and Houghten during the tournament.
Teammate Elliot Houghten, the MLL and DV Section champ and Masters Tournament bronze medalist at 195 pounds, made his second trip to state, going 2-2.
Houghten opened up the tourney with a tough 14-7 loss to Peter Thomas, of Torrey Pines, but came back strong in the consolation rounds, earning a 14-3 major decision over Arroyo Grande’s Mason Garcia and pinning Leonardo Dulanto of Galileo High. He fell 14-7 to Oceanside’s Shane Hansen in his final bout.
“I felt good to have qualified, but was looking for more than I put out, and I feel I could have had a much better tournament,” Houghten said.
And while the ultimate goal of medaling did not happen for the Calaveras duo, their reputations remain strong.
“It was really hard to come home without medals, and my heart breaks for the boys,” Upchurch said. “They are great kids and will be great men one day. I look forward to being a part of their lives forever. Donivan was not intimidated by the state tournament even a little, and the sky’s the limit for the young sophomore; Elliot will go down as one of the toughest Calaveras wrestlers ever.”
Like Houghten, Bret Harte’s Stephens was 2-2 over his two days of competition.
The MLL and DV Section champion at 170 pounds and fifth place finisher at masters, Stephens used takedowns to secure an opening round win over Cole Visconte, of Morro Bay, winning 6-4 and moving on to face eventual third place medalist Ryan Cosio, of Temecula Valley, to whom he lost via fall.
In the first round of consolations, the Bullfrog sophomore pinned Clovis High’s Austin Frantzich before ending his tournament with a 6-3 loss to Cole Chapman, of Vacaville.
“His last match was tied 3-3 halfway through the third period, said Damien Stephens, Kodiak’s father and coach. “He just missed a couple moves early on that could have changed the outcome, but that is the story with a lot of matches at state. I was very encouraged by his performance, but there are still a lot of things to work on. This past weekend gave him a chance to get a feel for the environment at state. I hope that he sees he is on the same level as the other wrestlers at state and jumps levels over the next year. The future has big things in store for him.”
With 276 teams and 1,008 competitors, both male and female, entered in California’s first coed CIF State Wrestling Tournament, the championship event is one of the largest in the nation. The fact that it is a single-division tournament, where schools both large and small compete as one – Reagan Dahle, the fifth place medalist at 195 pounds, hails from tiny Big Valley High School, which enjoys a combined junior-senior high population of just under 80 students, while 160-pound champ Matthew Olguin attends Buchanan High with an enrollment of over 2,700 – makes earning a qualifying spot a formidable task and making in to the second day of tournament competition meritorious.
“It’s so important for young wrestlers to get experience at state, so this tournament was invaluable,” said Bicocca, who coached four Calaveras wrestlers to state medals during his tenure.
Houghten has finished his high school wrestling career. He plans to attend San Francisco State University and hopes to wrestle for the Division II Gators.
Giangregorio will play football for Calaveras in the fall, but has already set the goal of medaling at state his junior season. Stephens, who wrestles year-round, will now focus on the freestyle and Greco seasons. He will compete in the USA Wrestling Folkstyle Nationals next month, where he earned All-American honors last year, but the goal of another run on the big stage at state is not far from his thoughts.
“It felt like I was meant to be there,” Stephens said of the Bakersfield experience. “And I will be going back.”