The weekend prior to state championships, Lilly Avalos topped the podium at the Sac-Joaquin Section Championships (Samantha Schmidt).

Wrestling wrapup: Pitman state champ soon will be honored with gym banner

Ron Agostini

Pitman High senior Lilly Avalos envisioned the sight – the banner featuring her name hanging in the Pitman gymnasium.

The honor is reserved for state wrestling champions, and three banners already grace the gym walls: Lilllian Freitas (2019-’20), Juan Mora (’21) and Avalos’ senior teammate Alana Ontiveros (’21).

Soon, there will be a fourth. Avalos capped a 42-0 season with a dominant three-day performance and the title of the 121-pound class last month at the 50th CIF State Wrestling Championships at Bakersfield.

“I really wanted that (banner),” said Avalos, who will continue her wrestling career at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. “I want to encourage girls to try out wrestling and to let them know that we have good girls wrestlers at Pitman.”

Point made, Lilly.

Pitman's Lilly Avalos (121), right, grapples with Isabelle Camariillo of Laguna Creek during their championship match at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters tournament (Samantha Schmidt).

Pitman featured a talented four-girl contingent – Avalos, Ontiveros (137), Baya Austin (126) and sister Gabryella Austin (131) – that swept to the Pride’s first team title at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships in Stockton. Avalos,  Baya Austin and Ontiveros took home Masters individual titles.

One week later, Avalos and the Austin sisters marched to the finals under the bright lights at Bakersfield’s Mechanics Bank Arena. The last time Avalos walked into that building a year ago, she was beaten in the 2022 state final.

She did not lose again as a high school wrestler.

Consider her overpowering performance that validated her No. 1 seed at state: A 5-0 record kicked off by wins via fall at 1:59 and 40 seconds, and 12-1 and 13-6 decisions. In the title match against Anaheim’s Lilyana Balderas, Avalos took her down, rolled her and executed a half-nelson for the pin in only 1:19.

Baya Austin (40-2), a freshman, was pinned by unbeaten Carissa Qureshi of Marina in the 126-pound final. Gabryella Austin (32-4), a sophomore, lost at 131 by fall to top-seeded Sac-Joaquin Section nemesis Taydem Kahmjoi of Cesar Chavez.

“This year was more of a buildup over what I already accomplished. I had the muscle memory,” Avalos said. “I just felt the love and support out there. It made the reward so much sweeter.”

Pitman coach Adam Vasconcellos, more than happy for his three state finalists and the third-place team finish at state (Marina near Monterey won for the second straight year), was not surprised by Avalos’ achievement.

Lilly is a gunslinger. She has a gear a lot of wrestlers don’t have,” Vasconcellos praised. “She also thinks things through and game-plans. She’s kind of a worrywart.”

There were few worries at Bakersfield. All that was left was a request to be made back home: She wants her banner hung next to that of Ontiveros, her best friend.

Just a guess: It will be a request granted.

Oakdale's Carlos Garcia grapples with Pitman's Mason Ontiveros at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet. Garcia took the section title in the 170lb weight class (Samantha Schmidt).

OAKDALE – The Oakdale Mustang boys, perennial powers, qualified 10 for Bakersfield and placed 10thon the team chart. That marked Oakdale’s fifth top-10 finish in the last eight years at state.

Three Mustangs climbed onto the podium for medals: Junior Carlos Garcia (fourth at 170), junior Eziequela Vela (seventh at 120) and freshman Wes Burford (eighth at 182).

“I thought we did very good overall,” Strange said. “Once you get there, you want more. But if you said at the beginning of the year that we would win two or three medals, it probably would be a good year. But I never would have guessed one would have come from a freshman (Burford).”

Oakdale also ended Vacaville’s five-year reign by winning the Section Masters team title. Earlier, the Mustangs defeated Vacaville 40-25 for the section Division I Team Duals title.

NOTES – The section was fortunate this was the off-year in the state-wide biennial adjustments for state qualifiers. SJS boys wrestlers managed only 11 medals at state, their lowest output in many years, with no titles and only one runner-up by Stagg senior heavyweight Sam Hinojosa. If the section repeats that performance next year, it no doubt will see its six state qualifiers per weight class reduced to five. The beneficiary probably would be the Central Coast Section powered by Gilroy. The Central and Southern sections already have tapped out at the maximum 10 state berths.  “If we drop from six to five, that’s a huge impact. It changes the whole (Masters) tournament. If you get to the semifinals, you’re not yet locked into state,” Strange said. …

Other state medalists from the area: Pitman freshman Mason Ontiveros (fifth at 170), Cynthia Meza of Calaveras (fourth at 106), Aleena Ngyuen of Central Catholic (eighth at 106), Sophia Hejnal of Enochs (fourth at 131), junior Masters champion Mikayla Lancaster of Gregori (third at 150) and Najeh Russo of Buhach Colony (sixth at 160). … The Buchanan boys of Clovis annexed their seventh straight state team championship.  … One of the season’s more remarkable moments happened at the Section Masters 137-pound girls final, when Alana Ontiveros pinned Bella Vista’s Gianna Dibenedetto in only 27 seconds. Dibenedetto won a state title seven nights later. … Chopper Mello, the Golden Valley coach for 26 seasons, won his 400th match last December.  His teams have won six league and two section titles.