By Ray Hamill — The Humboldt-Del Norte League Wrestling championships will enjoy an historic first this weekend, with the inclusion of a full girls tournament for the first time ever.
The top wrestlers from throughout the league — boys and girls — will compete at Eureka High on Saturday, with both individual and team titles up for grabs, as well as qualification for next week’s Section championships.
On the boys side, the competition is expected to be intense.
“It’s not an easy tournament,” Arcata head coach Eric Mikolai said. “Our league is very tough this year.”
A strong local showing at last week’s Division-II Redwood Empire NCS dual team championships would seem to back that.
Del Norte placed second for the first time in program history, while Fortuna took home third for the second straight year.
Both teams are expected to battle it out for Saturday’s team title, as they did a year ago when the Huskies edged out a three-and-a-half point win.
This year, however, the Warriors will go in as slight favorites after beating the Huskies in a dual meet a few weeks back as well as last weekend.
The race for third should be just as tight, with Arcata and Eureka expected to be in the mix.
Plenty of contenders
Individually, all the local teams should have some contenders on hand.
Fortuna senior Adam Medeiros has been the league’s most dominant wrestler this winter, and will go in as the favorite at 170 pounds.
Joey Pontes, Andrew Hansen, Levi Nyberg, Asa McKenzie and Del McKenzie among others are all also expected to compete well for Fortuna.
A team title might be out of reach for Arcata, Eureka and McKinleyville, but all three schools will bring an assortment of talented grapplers eager to make their mark.
Arcata will bring 12 boys and five girls.
And Mikolai believes his wrestlers are building momentum at a perfect time.
“As a team, we’re right where we need to be,” the Arcata coach said. “They’re all at the weights we want them competing at this weekend. Everybody’s healthy in their body and their minds. I think we’re as prepared as we need to be.”
McKinleyville, meanwhile, will be looking for junior Skyler Hicks and senior Michael Nelson to each continue their big seasons.
Hicks has been in spectacular form all winter and should be among the contenders at 197, while Nelson will be looking to possibly take home a title at 182.
The Panthers will bring 10 boys and four girls and Mack head coach Virgil Moorehead will be eager to see how some of his younger grapplers fare, such as freshmen Ray Blake at 170 and Conor Berg at 152.
Eureka also has a handful of top contenders, including senior Skylar Carroll (147) and junior Ruben Gutierrez (140).
“We’d like to qualify as many kids as we can for the North Coast Sections,” Eureka head coach Clint Hunter said. “That’s our big thing.”
The top three in each weight division will move on to next weekend’s section championships at James Logan High in Union City.
Eureka sophomore Jeremiah Martin is also expected to compete at 115 pounds, while teammate Micah Curiel will be hoping to contend at 195.
St. Bernard’s Lucindo Gable will be his school’s lone representative at the big meet, but is also expected to contend at 220.
On the girls side, the host school will go in as overwhelming favorites for the first-ever league title, with a full complement of wrestlers.
Del Norte, Arcata and McKinleyville will each also bring several competitors.
Among the top contenders, McKinleyville’s Audriana Beattie (160) and Lydia Kenyon (116) are each expected to challenge for an individual title, as are a number of Loggers, including Aracely Rendon (189), Kelli Johnston (128 pounds) and Helena Rogers (160), among others.
“It’s great that that’s finally happening,” Mikolai said of the girls tournament.
Hunter echoed the sentiment.
“it’s been growing every single year,” the Eureka coach said. “And this year they finally took that leap.”