The city of Los Banos will be chock full of wrestlers Saturday when Los Banos High hosts the fourth annual Morning Star Invitational for varsity-level boys, and Pacheco hosts the fourth annual PHS Invitational for varsity girls and junior varsity boys.
Defending Morning Star team champion Oakdale will return, after taking the tournament with 228.5 points last year. Golden Valley, which placed third last year after winning the tournament’s first two editions, also comes back.
“Oakdale looks to be the favorite, but Golden Valley has some good wrestlers that can do some things,” Los Banos coach Josh Adams said. “Ourselves, anywhere in the top five would be good. At this point, we’re a little thin. It should be a good kickoff to Christmas break.”
The weight class to watch is the 120-pound division, which includes LB’s state qualifier, Tyler Felix, along with Oakdale’s Nico Colunga (who finished eighth at last year’s state tournament), Bellarmine’s Isaiah Palomino (a freshman who is ranked 12th in the state) and Central Valley’s Michael Manzur, a veteran of many league battles over the last few years with LB’s Riko Quintana.
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The division includes two sons of coaches – Palomino is the son of Bellarmine coach Rick Palomino, and Brady Mello is the son of Golden Valley’s Chopper Mello.
“We only place top six,” Adams said, “so others will have to scrap it out as much as they can.”
The tournament has grown each year since its inception, and includes 21 teams this year. Look for Dos Palos, Firebaugh, Central out of Fresno, Bellarmine out of San Jose, Lathrop, Gilroy and Chowchilla, among others, to make waves. Perennial state contender Clovis will send its second team.
“I think Bellarmine might be a sleeper. They should be able to do some damage,” Adams said. “We have a good cross-section of teams from the Central Coast Section, Central Section and Sac-Joaquin Section. That’s what we wanted when we started the tournament.”
Oakdale put five wrestlers at the top of the medal podium last year, and two more reached the championship match. Jimmy Felix, Tyler’s older brother, was the only LB wrestler to make a title match last year, and Dos Palos’ Juan Jimenez won the 182-pound bracket.
“The format’s a little different – a lot of the teams don’t have full lineups, so we’ll be able to fit them into 16- to 20-man brackets,” Adams said. “What it really allows us to do is get a full 16-man bracket. Teams and coaches want to get a full four matches, so if you have less than 16 teams, you get some byes and stuff.”
Across town, Pacheco will host about the same number of teams – 19 in the varsity tournament, most of which are also bringing varsity girls, and a few just bringing the varsity girls contingent.
The tournament will go in a round-robin format, with a true JV division as well as a novice division.
“We’re trying to get them as many matches as possible,” Pacheco coach Michael Singh said. “So anywhere from three to four matches is what we’re looking at, depending on the weight classes and who shows up. The heavier weights usually have fewer guys.”