South Tahoe wrestlers Valney, Herrera, make history at Div. I-A Northern Region tournament; Vikings send four to state
FALLON, Nev. — In a decade and a half of Nevada’s current postseason wrestling format, no South Tahoe grappler has had the honor of standing atop the regional podium. A pair of Vikings standouts changed that at the Div. I-A Northern League championships, making history with elusive gold medals.
Senior Michael Valney and junior Andrew Herrera each claimed gold at the regional championships — the first Vikings to do so. The duo qualified for state along with senior Blair Binns and freshman Jose Leon from the two-day meet held Feb. 12-13 at Fallon.
“Their results were no accident — it is the product of relentless dedication,” Vikings JV coach Ryan Wallace said. “It is incredibly motivating and encouraging to witness young men devote so much energy to become something special.”
Valney’s gold in the 132-pound weight class was his sixth of the season, and continued one of the most successful campaigns in program history. The senior has recorded 213 takedowns this season, and has delivered three victories over reigning state champions.
His third win over a 2015 state champion came Saturday, Feb. 13, when he downed Spring Creek’s Anthony Chavez. After the victory, an elated Valney consoled his opponent before sprinting off the mat and out of Fallon’s gym to release a shout of joy.
“I have worked so hard, and when I realized I was the champion I definitely got emotional — it is the best feeling in the world,” Valney said. “It makes me want gold at state even more.”
Herrera pinned all three of his opponents before the conclusion of the second period in route to gold at 195 pounds. In the finals, he met Spring Creek’s Shelden Wilkinson — one of his toughest opponents this season.
“Andrew has been so impressive that guys made the choice to get out of 195s to avoid him,” Vikings coach Sean Griffis said.
After a scoreless first period, it looked like Wilkinson had closed the gap on the South Tahoe standout. Instead, the opportunistic creativity of Herrera’s top game allowed him to lock his opponent in an inescapable position that eventually led to a spectacular second-period pin.
“Last February, I promised coach Ryan if he came back and helped me that I would win state,” Herrera said. “Regionals were a big step, but we aren’t done yet.”
For the second straight year, a Leon will represent the Vikings in the state championships. Last season, it was senior Miguel Leon — this year it’s his younger brother, freshman phenom Jose Leon.
Leon finished third at regionals to punch a ticket to state in the 160-pound weight class. A first-round victory by pin set up a rematch with Fernley’s Brennen Gatlin — the senior beat Leon 13-8 to send him into the consolation semifinals, where another senior awaited.
Elko’s Eugene Golez recorded the first takedown of the that match, but Leon took control with a quick reversal and won by fall with 14 seconds left in the second round. The win punched Leon’s ticket to state, then he took down another upperclassman to claim third place — he beat Spring Creek’s Bailey Porreca 8-2 led by third-period scoring bursts.
“At duals, coach Ryan wrote a bunch of notes and told Andrew to do the moves that were beating me. We worked hard to fix my mistakes,” Leon said. “With another week like that, I feel pretty good about my ability to get to the finals at state.”
The 220-pound weight class is full of strong athletes that can win every time they step out on the mat. South Tahoe senior Blair Binns is clearly among them, and he’s headed back to the state tournament.
In the first round, Binns faced Sparks’ Norris Honeyestewa for the third time this season — and executed his game plan to perfection. After falling to Spring Creek’s Brennan Reese via last-minute pin, Binns bounced back to dispatch Fernley’s Christian Quinn in 27 seconds.
“When Blair won his consolation semi, he gave me the hardest, most painful hug I have ever received in my life,” Wallace said. “We are all thankful we get one more tournament with him — he is an exceptional human being and everything a parent would want their son to be.”
Binns’ 27-second victory earned a second straight state berth and a rematch with Lowry’s Mikeas Sommers, who pinned him in the first period at league duals the weekend before. Binns trailed by one with less than a minute left when he had a leg attack defended and countered that resulted in a 5-2 defeat.
Senior Boe Griffis (152 pounds) wore a South Tahoe singlet for the final time last Saturday, finishing a win shy of qualifying in sixth place. Freshman Kody Griffis (106) also placed sixth — each of the brothers went 3-3 at regionals.
Freshman Skylar Bledsoe (113) picked up a win and went 1-2. Sophomore George Rohrbacher (170), freshman Chris Chacon (160) and freshman Bodin Schwartz (120) each went winless in two matches at Fallon.
“It was a fun season, and an awesome but emotional day,”Griffis said. “This is a great group of guys. We graduate three great seniors who we will miss, but we return a bunch of young guys who have loads of potential.”
South Tahoe concludes its season at the Div. I-A State championships on Saturday, Feb. 20, at Star of the Desert Arena in Primm, Nevada. Valney, Herrera, Leon and Binns will vie for state titles in eight-wrestler brackets made up of Northern League and Southern Region grapplers — tournament results will be posted live at http://www.trackwrestling.com.