Herrera takes state: South Tahoe wrestler wins Div. I-A State championship in dominant fashion | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Herrera takes state: South Tahoe wrestler wins Div. I-A State championship in dominant fashion

Anthony Gentile | agentile@tahoedailytribune.com

PRIMM, Nev. — For the first time in nearly three decades, a South Tahoe wrestler finished atop the state podium. Vikings junior Andrew Herrera capped off a stellar season by claiming the ultimate prize at the Div. I-A State championships Saturday, Feb. 20, at Star of the Desert Arena.

Herrera entered the season as a legitimate state title contender in the 195-pound weight class after a fourth-place finish as a freshman and third-place result last season. And the Viking standout delivered on that potential in dominant fashion Saturday.

"I have never seen a person whose opponents were so genuinely happy for his success," Vikings JV coach Ryan Wallace said. "We know how special he is because we see him work every day, but it was incredibly uplifting to realize the whole league and beyond appreciates his positive influence."

After a second-round victory by pin over Austin Belcher from Moapa Valley (Overton, Nev.), Herrera met South second seed Cameron Cox of Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas) in the semifinals. Against Cox, Herrera opened up his offense en route to a 13-1 victory that secured a finals berth.

“I was so happy when the whistle blew. I wanted to hug every person in that gym.”Andrew HerreraVikings junior

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In the finals, Herrera took the mat against South top seed Dai'jon Payno of Mojave (North Las Vegas, Nev.). A physically imposing wrestler, Payno used sheer strength to pin his way through the bracket.

"I was actually calm before the match — I knew if it was close he would doubt his preparation and I wouldn't," Herrera said. "I wrestle with coach Ryan, who is stronger than anyone I know, so I wasn't going to be surprised by Payno like the other kids he threw."

Herrera withstood an early burst of aggression from Payno and secured a takedown late in the first round. Payno quickly exploded to his feet to earn a one-point escape as time expired — the last points he would score in the match.

In the second period, Herrera got to his feet quickly to go ahead 3-1, then countered a throw attempt to take a 5-1 lead into the third. After not being able to hold Herrera down, Payno chose neutral at the start of the third period, in the hopes of hitting a big throw — but Herrera foiled that plan.

The junior hit a double leg takedown and rode out the clock against his exhausted opponent en route to victory. For Herrera, the 7-1 win delivered the state championship he has sought for three seasons.

"I was so happy when the whistle blew, I wanted to hug every person in that gym. Then after a minute I got emotional when I started thinking of everybody that I should thank," Herrera said. "People spent a lot of time helping me and it was cool to be able to show that it was worth it.

"I felt like a celebrity — wherever I went someone was congratulating me."

Senior Michael Valney came two points away from topping the state podium at 132 pounds, falling to Faith Lutheran's Peter Enos 11-9 in the championship. From the start of the tournament, it was clear that the two top seeds would meet for the state title.

"He didn't make big mistakes and he wrestled his best, so I am glad he can look back without regrets," Vikings coach Sean Griffis said.

Valney set the school's single-season takedown record with 221. At state, he used that offense to deliver a 12-2 win over Mojave's Christian Collins and a 13-3 victory in the semifinals in his sixth match of the year against Fernley's Riley Twitchell.

The championship match between Valney and Enos was a bout featuring two prolific scorers. Enos ultimately edged Valney 11-9 in a high-paced match that featured three lead changes. His chance to finish with a go-ahead takedown throw was beaten by the buzzer.

"I was confident going into it — coach reminded me that I was brave all year so I could be brave in this match," Valney said. "I can score about 10 points on anybody. (Enos) was just good at getting points back in scrambles."

"Like he has done all year, he rose to the occasion," Wallace added. "You couldn't script a better finals match. No one will be able to duplicate the exciting element he added this season, and his takedown record may never be broken."

Senior Blair Binns (220 pounds) and freshman Jose Leon (160 pounds) each went 0-2 at the state tournament. All four of their losses came against eventual place-winners.

Binns was forced to forfeit his first match due to injury, but regrouped to wrestle Spring Creek's Brennan Reese. In the last match of his high school career, Binns lost by third-period pin.

"I am going to miss coach's dumb jokes, the crazy van rides and my weird teammates," Binns said. "Wrestling is so hard and not everybody can do it, so you respect the kids who stay and you get close to them."

Leon lost a close opening round match against Faith Lutheran's Dominic Paulos, who went onto finish in third place. In the consolation bracket, Leon saw a stellar freshman campaign come to an end with a 3-0 loss against Evan Kitchen of Sierra Vista (Las Vegas).

"I have to win (a state title) next year now, so if Andrew wins another one I can get three and beat him," Leon said.

"Jose has the work ethic of a champion, the heart of a champion and a state champion as practice partner — those are the ingredients necessary to make a gold medal," Wallace added. "You can scour the brackets but you aren't going to find grade 9 next to many names."

South Tahoe's four wrestlers finished with 37 points, to deliver a 12th-place finish out of 21 teams. League foe Fallon won the Div. I-A State championship with 145.5 points, its first in program history.