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High Schools | WRESTLER OF THE YEAR

Moreno Is the Best Thing Going Today

March 17, 2004|Rafer Weigel | Times Staff Writer

When Brian Moreno of Santa Ana Foothill walked onto the mat for the 112-pound championship match of the state finals on March 6 in Bakersfield, he saw something -- or, more accurately, didn't see something -- that told him he had already won.

Moreno, a junior, had previously defeated his opponent, Cory Borges of Hughson, 5-1, at the Five Counties Invitational at Fountain Valley on Jan. 17.

On that day, as the wrestlers came to the circle and locked hands, Borges looked Moreno in the eyes.

But this time, in the center of the raised stage in Centennial Garden in front of a state final-record crowd of 7,591, Borges wouldn't return Moreno's gaze.

"At state he didn't want to look at me much," Moreno said. "I don't know why. He had a little fear going, I think."

Moreno won the match, 6-4, but it wasn't as close as the score would indicate. Moreno wrestled conservatively, going up 3-0 after two periods and 6-2 with a minute left in the third. He was penalized for a locked hands call and eventually decided to let Borges go as the clock ran out.

"This showed a lot of people it wasn't fluke," said Moreno, referring to his state title at 103 pounds last season, in his second season in the sport. "I had a target on my back this year, but this proved that I'm one of the best."

Moreno, The Times' wrestler of the year, finished with a 58-1 record, including 16 pins and a school-record 207 takedowns, breaking the previous mark of 202 set by Evan Miles at 130 pounds in 2001.

Moreno's loss came in the finals of the Reno Tournament of Champions on Dec. 20 to Josh Oliver of Easton, Pa., 14-5. Oliver, who went on to finish second in his state's final, is ranked No. 12 nationally by Wrestling magazine. Moreno is ranked 15th.

After the loss, Moreno became more patient on the mat.

"[Now] he likes to take his time and see what the other guy is going to do," Coach Russ Caldwell said.

Of his 16 pins, only four came after his loss to Oliver.

"My first matches, I would get bored," Moreno said. "So I would just pin them because it's a boring match."

Next season, he hopes to become the second Southern Section wrestler to win three consecutive state titles since the tournament began in 1973. Santa Monica's Lawrence Jackson (1984-86) was the first.

"The first time out, I had nothing to lose," Moreno said. "The second time around, it was a little more pressure to defend a title. Next year, I'll be an even bigger target. But so what? I still have to beat people the same way."

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