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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | THE COLLEGES

Former State Champion Grapples With a Distant Challenge

October 15, 1998

In search of new mountains to climb, Cristobal Gonzalez found that and more at Lassen College in Northern California.

"It's a better place to be for me," Gonzalez said. "There's nice scenery, lots of mountains. . . ."

Not to mention one of the best junior college wrestling programs in the nation.

Gonzalez, who last March became the first Ventura High wrestler to win a state championship, wanted a change in location and a more difficult road to traverse toward his goal of earning a Division I scholarship.

Gonzalez, who defeated David Schenk of Anderson, 5-4, in a dramatic 189-pound final at the University of the Pacific, was expected to enroll at Moorpark, a perennial Southern California power. Moorpark, defending state champion, typically attracts the region's best high school wrestlers.

Instead, Gonzalez headed for Lassen, 80 miles north of Reno, Nev.

Lassen, competing in the National Junior College Athletic Assn. as the only California member, is four-time defending national champions.

"Up here, it's just wrestling," said Gonzalez, 56-3 as a senior at Ventura and the region's first state champion since 1985. "I used to think I was pretty good, until I got here. It's a pretty hard practice, one in the morning and again in the afternoon."

Gonzalez has been struggling to slim down. Hovering at 190 pounds, he is attempting to crack the team's starting lineup at 174 pounds in time for the start of the season Nov. 1.

"It's likely we'll redshirt him," Lassen Coach Rex Branum said. "He's carrying a little extra weight right now but he's working hard and running a lot. We are so happy to have him."

Gonzalez is striving to add his name to a long list of Lassen wrestlers who have continued their success in Division I. Of 17 former junior college wrestlers who competed in the NCAA national championship tournament last season, nine attended Lassen.

Lassen's schedule includes trips to Arizona, Illinois and Kansas.

"There are bigger tournaments, a bigger schedule," Gonzalez said. "My weight is going to decide whether I redshirt. But it's all water. I'll do it. Whatever it takes."

*

Winning road games is essential for teams chasing the Big Sky Conference football championship, a fact that doesn't escape Northridge Coach Ron Ponciano.

The Matadors (4-1, 3-0 in Big Sky) visit Cal State Sacramento (2-4, 0-3) on Saturday for their second conference road game. They won at Northern Arizona, 41-10, on Sept. 19.

Northridge traveled in buses to Flagstaff, with an overnight stop in Laughlin, Nev. The Matadors are riding buses to Sacramento, leaving Friday and returning right after the game.

"We expect this trip to be a little easier than the monster 10-hour bus trip to Northern Arizona," Ponciano said. "But it's still difficult."

Northridge is 4-5 in Big Sky road games since joining the conference in 1996.

The Matadors were 0-4 in Big Sky road games last year, when conference schools had a combined road record of 10-26 for a .278 winning percentage.

Of course, Sacramento makes everyone feel at home. The Hornets are 1-8 at their stadium since joining the Big Sky in 1996.

*

Cal Lutheran linebacker Jake Halas and defensive back Ryan Babcock, both senior starters, cannot play in the first half against Claremont-Mudd on Saturday because they were ejected for fighting in the waning moments of the Kingsmen's 10-6 victory over Chapman last week.

Halas and Babcock are among Cal Lutheran's top four tacklers. Babcock also returns kickoffs.

Staff writers Fernando Dominguez, Vince Kowalick and Steve Henson contributed to this column.

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