Oakdale High senior Ceasar Garza steadily progressed over the years at the CIF Wrestling Championships – 2-2 as a freshman and a seventh-place medal in the 145-pound class in 2020.
That led him to Saturday night at Bakersfield’s Mechanics Bank Arena where he earned the only remaining medal that mattered to him. The one colored gold.
“Getting your hands raised under the lights is a beautiful thing,” Garza said. “There is nothing like it.”
Garza (50-2), ranked No. 1 in California entering the meet, completed his 6-0 campaign over the three days with a 2-1 decision in double overtime over No. 2 Sergio Montoya of Clovis North for the 170-pound championship.
The Michigan State-bound Garza became Oakdale’s fourth state champion and the first for Steve Strange since he became head coach in 2014. Roger Chandler, the Michigan State head coach, watched his prized California recruit all three days in Bakersfield.
A trio of wrestlers from the frontrowpreps.com’s coverage area qualified for the finals and competed before a large crowd on the season’s final night.
Kalila Shrive of Tracy’s West High, like Garza, posed at the top of the podium after she won the state title at 160. Shrive, eighth in the same bracket at state two years ago, took home first place by defeating Kaiulani Garcia of Gilroy 3-1 in sudden victory.
Pitman junior Lilly Avalos advanced to the 121 title match wheres he was beaten 8-2 by Del Oro’s Elena Ivaldi. The Pride standout also lost to Ivaldi at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters final last week. Earlier Saturday, Avalos pinned Temecula Valley’s Leah Gaitan in the semifinals. Avalos placed fourth at the state 106s two years ago.
Garza and Montoya seemed destined for the state final since Garza’s 3-1 decision for third place at the prestigious Doc Buchanan at Clovis. Both took care of business at Bakersfield, and Garza rolled impressively into the title match Saturday morning with a 9-1 major decision over Thomas Sandoval of Vacaville.
The final was conducted not unlike many championship matches pitting opponents familiar with one another. Neither scored a takedown, and Montoya and Garza exchanged escape points for a 1-1 deadlock after regulation.
It remained that way during the first overtime, which was one minute of sudden victory. The second overtime, which comprises two 30-second rounds, was equally taut. Garza rode out the first 30 seconds, chose bottom for the second, worked his way to his feet for the decisive escape and survived Montoya’s desperate attempts for the win in the final seconds.
When it was over, Garza jumped into the arms of Strange and did a little dance with assistant coach David Ferry.
“My opponent waited for me to shoot and play off that. I don’t think he took a shot the entire match. I think he wanted to keep it close,” Garza said. “I can remember all the good times and the tough times over the years. It was 100 percent worth it.”
Garza’s only two losses were to 184-pound state champion Joseph Martin of Buchanan and to a wrestler from Oregon. The single loss to a Californian was painful – 1-0 to Martin at Oakdale’s own Riddle tournament, and Garza remembers immediately stepping outside and doing sprints to burn off the frustration.
But he had learned long ago how to react to disappointment. He started wrestling when he was 4. The result – no in-state wrestler took him down this season.
“It’s been a long time coming for him,” Strange praised. “Ceasar was a little kid traveling around the country and hanging around with the team in the room. His title was well-deserved. He was very focused and got everything right.”
Placing third at state were Calaveras senior Lexy Beadles (111) and Pitman junior Alana Ontiveros (143). Beadles, runner-up at state at 111 in 2020, bounced back after she was decisioned 6-4 by eventual champion Anaya Falcon of Walnut. Ontiveros also shook off a semifinals setback and finished the week 5-1.
Calaveras freshman Cynthia Meza signaled an exciting future by capturing a sixth-place medal at 106. Ripon pair Riley Rangel (137) and Katelyn Cardoza (153) reached the quarterfinals and eventually settled for eighth.
The only other male wrestler from the area besides Garza to step onto the podium was Oakdale sophomore Carlos Garcia, who was eighth at 160.
The state meet returned to Bakersfield after a one-year COVID-induced hiatus. Buchanan won its sixth boys team title while Marina picked up its first girls championship.