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Northview Pins Champion Hopes on Six Wrestlers

A school-record number will compete for state titles. The young team cemented success with Masters Meet victory.

March 04, 2004|Rafer Weigel | Times Staff Writer

Covina Northview has long been on the honor roll among the Southland's high school wrestling teams, but this season the Vikings have stepped to the head of the class.

And it looks as if they plan to stay awhile.

Northview (20-0, 5-0 in the Valle Vista League) had its best season ever, winning its first Masters Meet on Saturday and qualifying a school-record and Southern Section-best six wrestlers for the state championships Friday and Saturday at Centennial Garden in Bakersfield.

Not only did the Vikings win all of their dual meets, but they also won nearly every tournament they participated in -- they finished seventh at Five Counties, but it was the best finish among participating section schools -- and won the Southern Section Division III dual-meet and Southern Division individual titles.

Postseason success is nothing new at Northview. After all, the Vikings won the section's divisional dual-meet and individual titles in 2000, the same year they produced their first state champion, Chris Lopez, who won at 171 pounds.

What makes this season's success stand out is the fact that Northview had never defeated perennial power Santa Ana Calvary Chapel at the Masters Meet.

"They've always had good individuals, but this year they really proved themselves as a team," said Josh Holiday, in his second season as Calvary Chapel's coach. The Eagles had won Masters Meet titles in 13 of the previous 14 years before their fifth-place finish Saturday.

"And when you consider how young they are.... I mean, that's really scary," Holiday said.

Four of Northview's state qualifiers are sophomores -- Caleb Flores (103), Shad Manigault (112), Larry Medina (125) and Nick Leon (140) -- and the other two, Robert Dominguez (145) and Sam McGeorge (152), are the Vikings' only seniors on a squad that includes 27 freshmen.

Last season, Northview finished 25th at the Masters, qualifying only Flores for the state meet. He finished sixth, losing in a semifinal to eventual champion Brian Moreno of Santa Ana Foothill.

"After last season, Coach [David] Ochoa sat [the team] down and said, 'Listen, guys, this can't happen again,' " assistant coach Bob Bellamy said. "We had to self-reflect and raise the bar for our expectations."

Only Flores and Medina were considered among the state's top 10 wrestlers in their weight classes at the beginning of the season. It wasn't until the Five Counties meet Jan. 17 at Fountain Valley that, according to Holiday, "they really started getting people's attention."

Said Dana Craig, another assistant coach: "Nobody thought we were that good. After the first day at Five Counties, I turned to Coach [Ochoa] and said, 'You know what? We're going to win Masters this year.' "

Said Ochoa: "Our performance at Masters was probably more gratifying than anything else, because there were a lot of people out there to prove that we weren't deserving of the [The Times' No. 1] ranking."

Despite his teams' unequaled success, Flores (45-2) is still the only Viking favored to win a state title this weekend.

"It's added pressure, but it helps me to perform better because I know the team's looking to me to give them a spark," Flores said. "It's nice to have company this time."

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