Step one of four begins this weekend for wrestlers from across the Stanislaus District.
Individual league championships kick off this week, the first of four consecutive weekend tournaments that will culminate in March at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena -- the site of the CIF State Championships.
There will be state-ranked wrestlers competing at four of this week's six local league championships. And if you have a couple of days off, you can catch as many as three tournaments.
Today's Central California Conference tournament at Pitman features four state-ranked wrestlers, including state No. 1 Chris Urquizo of Merced at 152 pounds. Turlock sophomore Fabian Garcia is ranked No. 6 at 119 pounds. Pitman's Cesar Padilla (145 pounds) and Turlock's Marco Delgado (215) are state honorable mentions.
Friday will see two tournaments: The Modesto Metro Conference tourney is at Downey, while the Mother Lode League tournament is at Calaveras.
Both leagues have a history of close, competitive finals. Perhaps the best matchup of the day could come at Downey at 130 pounds, where Beyer's Oliver Congleton and Downey's Matt Galton are expected to compete. Both wrestlers are ranked in the Sac-Joaquin Section, and both have state meet aspirations.
Saturday is Valentine's Day, and it's also league tournament day for the Valley Oak League, Western Athletic Conference and Trans-Valley League.
The VOL is at Central Valley, and features the Oakdale duo of Shane Tate (125 pounds) and Charlie Gilstrap (215). Both are state-ranked.
Central Catholic hosts the WAC tournament, and it features state No. 2 T.J. Belton at 152 pounds. Raiders sophomore David Ferry is a state honorable-mention at 125 pounds.
The TVL meet is at Hughson. The TVL's lone state-ranked wrestler is Ripon's Ryan Mackey at 171 pounds. But Escalon's Charlie McDonald has also competed at 171 pounds this year, setting up a strong final.
The top four placers in each league tournament advance to next week's Sac-Joaquin Section divisionals. The Division I South tournament is at Turlock; the Division IV tourney is at Whitney of Rocklin and the Division V qualifiers have the longest drive of them all, up to Lindhurst of Olivehurst.
It's also a big week for weight classes. Sometimes, wrestlers move up or down a weight class. This is usually done to maximize a wrestler's chances at making -- or placing in -- the state meet.
In the Sac-Joaquin Section, 152 pounds is the weight class to avoid, with the top two-ranked wrestlers in the state -- Urquizo and Belton -- there.
Pitman's Padilla -- who was state-ranked at 152 pounds for a portion of the season -- is now at 145 pounds. And Waterford 160-pounder Erick Gomez could have dropped; but he knew what was waiting for him.
"It was a pretty easy choice," said Gomez after winning the title at the Rumble in the Jungle last month. "One hundred fifty-two pounds is stacked with those guys. I think I'll be staying right here."
Because of the upcoming holiday weekend, the Modesto Metro Conference will have both boys and girls basketball games tonight. That's right, all six gyms in the MMC will have games.
The big boys game is at Beyer, where first-place Enochs plays at the fourth-place Patriots.
There are two girls games with some intrigue. Fourth-place Davis plays host to Modesto, which is tied for the lead. And third-place Beyer is at Enochs, also tied atop the MMC. The Patriots handed the Eagles their only league loss in their first meeting.
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.