Paris Ruiz felt as if his heart was beating outside of his chest.
The sold-out Clovis High School gym, the inflatable Cougar sitting on one side of the mat, growling opposite an inflatable Bear, mirroring the frenzied student sections and cheer squads rooting on Buchanan and Clovis High – the environment excited Ruiz as he wrestled in the first match of “The Big One.”
Buchanan head coach Troy Tirapelle told the freshman to soak it up. With the two premier high school wrestling programs of the Central Valley not facing each other for two years, nothing could be taken for granted, Tirapelle said.
“Enjoy it and think of everything we did in practice that nobody got to see,” he told Ruiz. “At least someone gets to see what you can do. Win or lose, have some fun. At least we get to do this. It’s a blessing.”
Buchanan, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 4 in the country, won the dual meet over Clovis High by a team score of 44-16 on Wednesday. Clovis entered the dual as the No. 3 team in the state and No. 24 in the country, and 22 of the 28 wrestlers in the line-up were ranked in the Top 20 state rankings.
It’s no wonder why fans and coaches call it “The Big One” whenever these two schools meet on the mat.
“Family built [the rivalry] up, and I got to be part of it later on, but they built it up before I came in,” said Clovis head coach Gabe Schaefer. “It just keeps growing, which is great because the fans love it. The fans don’t even know what’s going on half the time, but when something happens, it’s exciting and they get into it. It’s just as much for the fans as it is for the wrestlers and coaches.”
Clovis High had a lot to cheer for early. The Cougars won three of the first four matches, including victories by state-ranked No. 2 Nikade Zinkin at 108 pounds and state-ranked No. 3 Koda Holeman at 115 pounds. After Clovis senior Matthew Terrence won by fall at 128 pounds, Clovis took a 13-3 lead in team points.
But Buchanan responded by winning eight matches in a row, starting with a hard-fought 1-0 decision by junior Reggie Raiz over Clovis senior George Rosas at 134 pounds. Raiz was the only non-ranked wrestler to defeat a ranked opponent; Rosas was No. 3 in the state at 128 pounds.
Buchanan took the lead when senior twins Jack and Michael Gioffre each won by fall at 140 and 147 pounds, respectively.
“It was just another match,” Jack said. “I go out there and wrestle my hardest no matter who I face. The Clovis kid fought hard, so I had to try my hardest to get a pin.”
Once the Gioffres got the ball rolling, Buchanan did not stop. The Bears scored 35 unanswered team points until Clovis freshman Mark Marin won by decision at 222 pounds.
“It takes somebody like the twins to get it going,” Tirapelle said. “The kids who are established, the kids who are older, the kids who are used to wrestling in an atmosphere like this. Then the other ones jump on board… Once everyone sees the winning, everyone is like, ‘Oh that looks fun, I want to do that.’”
Senior Caden Rodgers ended the night with a win by fall at 287 pounds. The No. 1 wrestler in the state at 222 pounds, Rodgers moved up a class to wrestle another football two-sport athlete, Clovis senior Christian Smith.
Buchanan, now 5-0 in duals this season and 2-0 in TRAC play, will continue its quest for a sixth consecutive state title.
“It’s amazing,” Rodgers said. “Wrestling my freshman and sophomore year and not winning, it’s amazing to come out here with a W and win as a team.
“As a team, we’re all gunning for that state title again.”