By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Under the bright lights, the electric atmosphere and in front of a turn-away crowd of over 2,500 one thing was certain: this was no upset.
The Buchanan Bears, no doubt tired of TRAC rival Clovis High’s 91 straight TRAC wrestling dual wins en route to five straight California state team titles, beat the storied Cougars 32-27 in a dual of epic proportions at Clovis High on Jan. 27.
Using a mixture of depth, a deep desire to win and gaining those all-important bonus points, the nation’s No. 5 ranked team beat the nation’s No. 8 in a stage that attracted the attention of not only the Central Valley but had state and national implications as well.
And sprinkle in a couple of years of pent up frustrations and there you have it –the recipe for victory.
“I’d say it has been a long time coming,” said head coach Troy Tirapelle. “The kids have been ready to overtake [Clovis] for a couple of years now, but this is the first time that I truly think that they believed it themselves. It’s one thing for us as coaches to believe it and tell it to them. It is something very different for them to know it in their hearts. I think it showed in their performance and the level of confidence they demonstrated in a hostile environment.”
After Clovis opened up the event with two-time state defending champion Justin Mejia’s victory over Chris Gaxiola at 120, Buchanan took charge the rest of the way, led by Durbin “DJ” Lloren, Joel Romero (132), Greg Gaxiola (145) and Abner Romber (160), who all received bonus points.
“It was great to finally beat Clovis,” said Lloren, who added that it was fun to have his fellow classmates cheering him on. “I knew we always had the talent and ability, so it felt awesome to finally break their streak.”
And despite the three heavy hitters for Clovis in Josh Hokit (182) and brothers AJ (195) and Seth (285) Nevills winning their matches, Clovis couldn’t get over the top. Buchanan won eight out of the 14 matches.
But it was the effort and wins by Matt Olguin (106), Brett Villarreal (126), Greg Gaxiola (145), Clay Belshay (170) and Zak Levatino (220) that put Buchanan in the winner’s circle.
Tirapelle was proud of the entire effort, starting with the seniors – all four of them.
“They took care of business like the older kids should and how you need them to in order to have a special team,” Tirapelle said. “It was an entire team effort of mostly underclassmen. Up and down the lineup we have kids that have been stepping up to whatever task lay before them. Therefore, we don’t need a couple of kids to try and carry the load.”
But there’s still a lot of wrestling left in the season and despite a couple of hurdles, already cleared there’s still the TRAC championships, the Central Section Masters and the granddaddy of them all – the CIF State Championships on March 4-5.
And just don’t count out the Cougars the rest of the way.
“We move forward and learn from the experience,” said Clovis head coach Steve Tirapelle, the father of Buchanan coach Troy. “Each and every competition is a bench mark that lets us know where to focus our time during practice. The coaching staff and I will continue to evaluate and work efficiently to achieve our expectations for the program.”
But for now, Buchanan will enjoy this momentum shift, and hopefully beyond.