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El Camino Real's Kingpin Thriving


Matt Austin of El Camino Real High still feels the sting of last season's loss to San Fernando in the City Section wrestling finals.

But perhaps more painful for Austin, a 160-pound senior, and his teammates is the realization that El Camino Real's years as a wrestling power might be over. The Conquistadores have struggled to a 10-9-1 record. Last season, they were whipped three times by archrival San Fernando, including in the City championship match.

For Coach Milt Goffman, who retired last season after leading El Camino Real to four City titles in 17 years--including three in a row from 1988-90--it was a disappointing farewell.

For Austin, a four-year wrestler and last season's runner-up in the City 152-pound division, it was a fine how-do-you-do.

"Since I've been around, we basically beat them pretty badly," Austin said. "But we didn't beat them in Mr. Goffman's last year. I couldn't believe that."

All of which set an interesting stage last week as El Camino Real met San Fernando in the Highland 10-way tournament at Highland High. It marked the first time the schools had met since the City finals last February.

San Fernando also has struggled this season, going 4-6 in dual meets. And the match between the two one-time titans would decide fourth place in the two-day tournament.

Times had changed. But any speculation that the rivalry had gone flat was laid to rest on the mat.

"Both teams wrestled hard in the tournament, but when it came down to wrestling each other, none of that mattered," San Fernando Coach Mike Castillo said. "All the other schools in the tournament picked up on that and were sitting around watching us. When they were through wrestling, we were still going at it."

Indeed, sweat flew. But time did not. In a grueling, 1-hour 45-minute match in which each team claimed victories in six weight categories and one bout ended in a draw, El Camino Real pounded out a 38-32 victory. San Fernando finished fifth behind Barstow, Littlerock, Sunny Hills and El Camino Real.

For Austin, who was 9-0 in the tournament en route to claiming the tournament's 160-pound championship, frustration begat redemption.

"I can deal with being defeated by a better team," Austin said. "But I feel we should have beaten them last year. I couldn't handle losing to San Fernando."

Austin easily handled San Fernando's Orlando Martinez, recording a pin in 1 minute 11 seconds.

"It was kind of a mental thing going in," Austin said. "I knew going in . . . that if I got a pin we would win. I just went in there and tossed the guy around."

Austin recorded five pins in the tournament, including one in 1:45 over an opponent from Highland. Last season, Austin recorded a pin against L. A. Wilson in 20 seconds.

Austin is 20-4 with 14 pins this season.

"Matt's a definite pinner," said Terry Fischer, El Camino Real's first-year coach. "He dominates his opponents."

Said Austin: "It takes a lot to pin a guy, but it's an incentive. Last year, I would go the distance a lot and going six minutes is tough."

The days of domination might have passed for El Camino Real and San Fernando. They will meet again Feb. 6 at San Fernando in a Valley League match. And another tight contest likely will ensue.

"You can't be peaking all the time," Austin said. "We're still holding our own and that's fine with me."

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