Oakdale High senior Ceasar Garza has done just about everything in his prep wrestling career. He checks the boxes thus:
State medal? Check.
Number 1 ranking in California? Check.
Scholarship in hand to Michigan State? Check.
Sac-Joaquin Section Masters title? Check.
Yet there is one box which remains blank, and Oakdale is unanimous on that one remaining goal.
"‘It’s state title or bust,” Garza said.
“It’s state title or bust,” veteran Oakdale coach Steve Strange said.
That echo in the room is purposeful.
Garza, Strange, and the rest of the 11-man Oakdale contingent walk lockstep back to Bakersfield’s Mechanics Bank Arena for the three-day CIF State Wrestling Championships beginning Thursday.
The target has been identified for Garza, and hitting it surely won’t be easy. But he has positioned himself for glory. He’s already beaten the top challengers in the 170-pound class up and down the state. His only two losses this season were to a wrestler from Oregon and Buchanan’s top-ranked Joseph Martin, who competes this week at 182.
Which means the door swings open for Garza. Nothing is given on the mat, however, especially in the hot glare of Bakersfield.
"I've been dreaming of this moment," Garza said this week. "That No. 1 seed (at state) is special."
Wrestling, like all other parts of society, has inched back to a semblance of normalcy in the latter stages—we hope—of the COVID pandemic.
The Section Masters was staged last weekend for the first time in two years and the first time back at Stockton Arena since 2019. The state meet, scrapped last year, again becomes the final destination to wrap up a tumultuous season.
The top six qualifiers in each bracket at Masters have qualified for state, and 65 from the frontrowpreps.com’s coverage area will make the trip. Eight of them are Masters champions.
The boys champs are Garza and teammates Michael Torres (126) and Carlos Garcia (170). Five girls captured Masters titles: Jazmine Turner of Grace Davis (101), Cynthia Meza of Calaveras(106), Lexy Beadles of Calaveras (111), Alana Ontiveros of Pitman (143) and Kalila Shrive of West (160).
Torres, a Cal Poly commit and ranked fourth, placed seventh in the state at 106 two years ago. He stunned the crowd in Stockton last week by pinning Robert Lopez of West in only nine seconds. A snappy single-leg and cradle ended it quick.
Garcia, a sophomore, is ranked seventh in the state afters weeping all five matches at Masters.
Masters runners-up included Central Catholic’s Victor Ramirez (106), Colton Davis of Oakdale (132), Jonathan Hernandez of Oakdale (138) and Achilles Clarke of Pitman (220).
Beadles, a senior, was a state runner-up at 111 two years ago. She won the 111s last week by fall in one minute over Amaya Yoshizumi of Bella Vista.
Turner pinned Natalie Fuentes of Delhi in the third round in the 101 Masters title match. Meza, who will join brother Carlos at state, won the 106 Masters title by pinning Jazmin Roschman of Roseville in 1:19.
Shrive, eighth in the state at 160 in 2020, pinned Najeh Russo of Buhach Colony in 5:23 for her Masters title. Ontiveros defeated Dafne Guadarrama of Franklin of Elk Grove 6-3 in the 143 final. Lillian Avalos of Pitman, fourth in the state at 106 in 2020 as a freshman, lost via decision in the 121 final to Elena Ivaldi of Del Oro.
When Garza walks onto the mat at Bakersfield, he’ll be assisted in his corner by Strange and assistant David Ferry. Strange coached Ferry, at that time at Central Catholic, to a state title in 2010. Ferry finished his career at Oakdale and now helps Strange, a 20-year coaching lifer (he was a two-time state champion at Hughson), who’s yet to crown a state champ during his tenure at Oakdale.
The Oakdale program continues to grow as a section and state power. It moved into its 5,500-square-foot on-campus wrestling headquarters, the result of its sustained success, a year ago. This season, the Mustangs romped to Valley Oak League and section divisional titles, and placed runner-up behind Vacaville at both the Division 1 Section Team Duals and at Masters.
The Oakdale contingent believes it’s time for a wrestler wearing Oakdale red to stand at the top of the podium Saturday night at Bakersfield. Garza could be that guy.
His maturation can be measured at the state meet. He went 2-2 as a freshman, then placed seventh for a medal as a sophomore. Last June, he won his weight class at the California State Finals in Fresno, a de facto state championship. He acknowledged it wasn’t the real thing.
It all counts this week as Garza tries to follow Rudi Burtschi (2008), Matt Cox (2000) and Trevor Machado-Ching (2005) as Oakdale state champions.
“I tell myself not to hold back, separate and be No. 1 for a reason," said Garza, who grew up idolizing Oakdale wrestling stars.
Garza admitted to a case of nerves as a freshman in Bakersfield. But that was a long time ago. He’s won medals across the country since then and now goes after the one he wants the most.
“Since I’ve been in Oakdale, there’s never been a moment too big for him,” Strange said. “It is his mindset. He’s special and believes in himself. He’s a smart mat wrestler.”
The state meet will begin with girls competition Thursday at 9 a.m., followed by the boys at 1 p.m. Consolation rounds on Friday will start at 9 a.m., leading to the quarterfinals at 3:45 p.m. The final day kicks off with consolation at 9 a.m., semifinals at 11, and the championship matches at 6:15 p.m. This year marks the third time the meet has gone coed.
For ticket information, visit cifstate.org.