James Burns: Urquizo ready for all comers

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

Track and field athletes taper their workouts before big races and meets.

Swimmers, too.

And wrestlers?

Only in theory, I guess.

Case in point: Chris Urquizo's final practice before today's CIF State Wrestling Championships.

"This is going to be a light workout," Merced coach Clayton Schneider said on Wednesday.

"We're going to just work on the stuff he needs to clean up. Things we think he might see."

So you're tapering?

"Yeah," he said, jogging back onto his mat. "Exactly. ... tapering."

You be the judge.

Three times, Urquizo stopped his workout to stretch his cement-stiff hamstrings, groin and neck muscles.

Halfway through, he called an emergency timeout, halting the action as he checked his face for an open wound.

No blood.

Just a "mouse" -- a small, raised bruise -- under his left eye.

Urquizo was inadvertently kicked by Schneider, who was drilling another wrestler along the edge of the mat.

"You mad?" Schneider asked. "Good -- wrestle mad this weekend."

Tapering, huh?

Urquizo is ranked No. 1 in the state in the 152-pound weight class, but considering the licks he took on Wednesday, you might have thought he was a training dummy.

Or a glutton for punishment.

The senior was pounded, tossed and kneaded like a ball of dough for more than two hours.

And just when it looked as if his tall, lean frame could take no more -- that he might collapse from exhaustion -- he lifted himself up off his knees and into a ready position.

As if to say...

Is that the best you got?

"That was a good workout," Urquizo said, hands on his hips, beads of sweat rolling off his brow. "Every practice this week has been tough.

"My arms feel like they're pumping. My legs hurt. They feel heavy because I'm so exhausted."

Urquizo's final paces toward today's state meet at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield looked, felt and sounded like, uh...

A state meet.

Schneider called on two of the area's top wrestlers to spice up Urquizo's last trip through the Merced wrestling room.

One wasn't hard to get a hold of at all -- Steven Urquizo, Chris' older brother and a Merced Wall-of-Fame member.

Steven finished third at the state meet in 2005 and was recently crowned the 184-pound state junior college champion.

The other was Daniel Osmer, the former Buhach Colony dynamo.

Osmer finished sixth at state in 2007 -- the same year Urquizo, then an unheralded sophomore, shocked the 140-pound weight class.

Urquizo gutted his way through the bracket in Bakersfield, parlaying a series of one-point wins into a second-place finish.

He won't sneak up on anybody this time around.

Urquizo is 42-3 and a celebrity on the California wrestling circuit.

But for a wrestler so talented, so sneaky quick and strong, Urquizo maintains a small measure of respect for the underdogs and unknowns.

He was there.

He was one those kids.

"Anything can happen at state. In 2007, a lot of people ranked ahead of me lost," Urquizo said. "Now I'm the ranked one, and I've got to defend it.

"I've got to prove that I deserve to be the No. 1 guy."

Which brings us back to Wednesday and the "tapered" workout.

Maybe Schneider and Urquizo intended to dial back the intensity. Maybe his final practice was supposed to be a walk down Easy Street.

Or maybe -- more likely -- the pressure of being a state champion and a room full of sparring partners wouldn't let Urquizo off the hook.

No matter how much his battered body begged him to slow down. To stop.

"We talk about it daily. We haven't had a state champion since 1987. That's a long time," Schneider said.

"We've had numerous state placers, and he's one of them. But he wants to be on the other board with the champions."

In other words...

Swimmers and runners taper before big events.

Wrestlers -- the good ones like Urquizo -- say they will, but don't.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at