Postseason cooperation is one of the quirks that helps give high school wrestling its uniqueness.
Once the season turns from team to individual glory, conference rivalries and school colors tend to be forgotten. Those in an area left standing often band together to train and push each other toward a coveted state title.
Atwater’s Jojo Ochoa and Buhach Colony’s Jay Johnson are the perfect example of this.
The duo turned in a pair of epic matches during the regular season and are using that competitive equality to help prepare one another for today’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet and what they hope will be a state tournament berth. The tournament runs today and Saturday at the Stockton Arena.
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“I think it’s hugely beneficial having them train together,” Thunder coach Eric Osmer said. “When I was in high school that’s what you did. You went all around the area and took on the best guys still wrestling. That’s how you got better.
“It helps a lot that they’re relatively the same size. Jay and Jojo wrestled twice this year and both went right down to the finish. One went to overtime and I think the other was decided by one or two points.
“Jojo is so wily and confident on the mat. His style is good for Jay to get better. And Jay is just so strong. It’s good for Jojo because he’s usually taking on bigger guys.”
As even as the pair may be on the mat, they head to Masters at very different places in their careers.
Ochoa entered the season a two-time defending Central California Conference champion. The senior earned his way to Stockton with a fourth-place finish in the 220-pound division at Divisionals last week.
It wasn’t quite the finish Ochoa had envisioned.
“The first goal was to be a three-time CCC champ, but that didn’t pan out,” Ochoa said. “Next, I wanted to be a finalist at Subs. I came up short in overtime in the semifinals.
“Right now, the only goal would be to win my first three matches and already qualify for state. It’s the one thing I’ve never done, and I’ll never hear the end of it if my brother (Danny) made state and I didn’t.”
Johnson is a junior who is just starting to realize his potential.
He started wrestling as a freshman and then missed most of his sophomore year after getting knocked unconscious during practice. Osmer said once the doctors cleared him of concussion symptoms, Johnson spent the summer doing Greco Roman wrestling.
It set the stage for Johnson to grab his first CCC crown and finish third at 195s last week.
“I didn’t even like wrestling as a freshman,” Johnson said. “It was so different than football, I wanted to quit. I had a talk with my mom and she told me I’d never quit anything in my life. She was right. I begged to get back on the team and I’m really glad I did.
“I never imagined I would be here, but I’m excited that I am. Beating the Folsom kid that had already beaten me for third place at Divisionals gave me a lot of confidence.
“The goal for this weekend is to just place and make it to state. I don’t care about winning, I just want the experience of going to state.”
Osmer and Atwater coach Nelson Medeiros are doing everything they can to make that happen. The coaches have taken the pair on a tour of the surrounding area in preparation for Masters.
They’ve made trips to Merced, Atwater, Buhach Colony and Hughson to expose Johnson and Ochoa to as many different styles and techniques as they can.
“I’m just trying to take in as much as I can,” Johnson said. “You never know what kind of wrestler you’re going to come up against, so we’re experiencing as many different flavors right now as we can.
“It’s been a good week, and I think we’re both feeling good going into (today).”