The Santa Barbara school system might accomplish what Channel League wrestling teams have been trying to do to Dos Pueblos High for more than a decade: Pin it with a loss.
Dos Pueblos, the league's smallest school with about 1,200 students, extended its league dual-meet winning streak to 75 matches by completing another undefeated season. The Chargers have won 13 consecutive league titles, 12 outright, under Coach Mike Hart.
Yet while the school has overcome its low enrollment admirably in competition, the lack of students may force Dos Pueblos to close next year and send its students to San Marcos High.
The Chargers, indeed, could have the mat pulled out from under them. The league tournament Saturday at Santa Barbara High could be the last time the Chargers roll out that not-so-welcome mat and take down the rest of the league.
Of course, Rio Mesa and Ventura--the strongest of the Channel League challengers--are vying for a reversal of recent fortunes. Both believe they can give Dos Pueblos a going-away pin.
All wrestling leagues in the Southern Section cap two months of dual meets with league tournaments, during which all teams gather under one roof for a dual purpose. Individuals qualify for the Southern Section meet based on their finish in the league tournament and the league team title is at stake because dual-meet and league-tournament standings count equally.
In the Channel League that means a chance--perhaps the last chance--to defeat Dos Pueblos, the team that has had all the right moves for a long time.
"It's gonna be competitive," Rio Mesa Coach Todd Stoke said of the league tournament. "Going in, I'd have to say Dos Pueblos is the favorite. But we've got a shot and Ventura has a shot."
Dos Pueblos has a 7-0 league record, Rio Mesa (6-1) is second and Ventura (5-2) is third. Dos Pueblos is ranked fourth in the 3-A Division and Rio Mesa is fifth.
Ventura, however, came within a point in the last weight class of tying Dos Pueblos in a dual meet. Rio Mesa lost to Dos Pueblos, 34-25, but defeated Ventura, 35-27. Those scores are not altogether predictive of success in the league tournament, however.
"In the league meet there are more variables than in a dual meet," Stoke said. "The contrasting styles of wrestlers comes into play. And some guys wrestle at a lower weight in the league meet than they did during the season."
Said Ventura Coach Paul Clementi: "D.P. has dominated so much in the past, but this year will be more balanced. We need help from other schools. At this point in the year--it's been a long season--a lot depends on how hungry your wrestlers are."
Certain weight classes--the ones that were most competitive in dual meets--will be key in the league tournament. Success at the 145 and 177 weights are crucial to Rio Mesa's upset hopes.
Wyatt Anderson of Rio Mesa and Steve Dick of Dos Pueblos split two close matches this season at 145 pounds. And every league wrestler at 177 has been defeated.
"For us to win league, Anderson has to win at 145," Stoke said. "And first through fifth place is up for grabs at 177."
Dos Pueblos' top wrestlers are Tyler Stetler (heavyweight) and David Ellis (154). Stetler is unbeaten but only defeated Ventura's David Mitchell by a point. Ellis, a senior, is the defending league champion and was runner-up in the 3-A last season. Brian Gunsolley (165) is unbeaten in dual meets.
Rio Mesa's standout is 132-pound senior Robby Cook, who is undefeated in league meets and 35-1 overall. Cook is a four-year letterman, returning league champion and was named the league's outstanding wrestler in the lower weight divisions last year.
Tony Flores (191) is another four-year letterman for the Spartans and he has improved each year, finishing fourth in league as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second as a junior. Flores is unbeaten in league matches this year.
D.J. McCown (126), Ventura's best wrestler, had the flu and missed the Cougars' close dual-meet loss to Dos Pueblos. McCown is unbeaten in league matches. Ventura sophomore David Atherton (98) is also unbeaten in league meets. Junior Brian Adams (177) pinned his opponents from Dos Pueblos and Buena.
Other top wrestlers in the league tournament include Oxnard's Noel Juarez, who may drop from 112 to 105 pounds for the tournament, and Hueneme's Delphino Ochoa (119), a two-time league champion.
Juarez is unbeaten in league meets and has only one loss overall. Ochoa is trying to become only the eighth wrestler to become a three-time Channel League champion.
And as for beating Dos Pueblos? "It's not going to take a miracle," Stoke said, "just an excellent performance."
Balance has characterized the Marmonte in dual meets. Westlake, Simi Valley, Camarillo, Channel Islands and Newbury Park field representative teams. Only Royal and Thousand Oaks have consistently struggled.
"Westlake has the best chance," Newbury Park Coach Marty Maciel said. "They have a real good tournament team."