Twelve years have passed since Carson High School produced its last state wrestling champion. Today, five Senators will try to take a step toward ending that drought when the NIAA/U.S. Bank 4A State Tournament opens at Cimarron-Memorial High School.
Justin Sarnowski, Justin Shine, Doug Brooks, Branden Lamborn and Ben Johnson would like to add their own names to Carson's honor roll of state champions, but all will face difficult roads during the two-day tournament.
"To win it all, you have to wrestle well in three straight matches," Carson coach Tim McCarthy said. "I think we're due. We've had some good teams in the past, but nobody's been able to take a state title."
Clendon Snipes was a state champion for Carson in the 145-pound weight class in 1988, but he's the last Senator to do so. The last Carson wrestler to even reach the championship round at state was Efrain Segura, who dropped a 5-3 decision to Wooster's Damon Remley in 1996.
Sarnowski (130 pounds), Shine (135) and Brooks (140) are coming off gold-medal performances at the Northern 4A zone tournament at Galena High School, while Lamborn (160) and Ben Johnson (215) qualified for state by placing as runners-up in their divisions. All five have previous state experience, and McCarthy believes all five have a chance to be successful this weekend.
"We come into state looking good with five (zone) finalists," he said. "I think we have an awful good shot at getting all five into the semifinals, and hopefully we'll see a couple more in the finals. Obviously, we'd like to get a state champion, but we're not going to put any pressure on these kids. They've all had a good year and they've wrestled well to get this far."
Sarnowski won his second straight zone 130-pound title with a 1-0 triumph over Wooster's J.W. Lazzari, and he figures to face another close challenge this weekend. Daniel Shaw of Fallon is the defending state champion in this weight class, and Lazzari boasts a 51-6 season record with 144 career wins under his belt. Jarek Padilla of Eldorado comes in as the Southern zone champion.
"As far as we can tell, the North is stronger at 30s than the South," McCarthy said. "So I'd say Sarno is in a very good position (to reach the finals), because both Lazzari and Shaw are on the other side of the bracket."
Brooks comes in as the hottest of the Senators, considering he hasn't lost since Jan. 12. Since then, he's won titles at the Sparks and Albany (Calif.) invitationals, and then he defeated Galena's Matt Reed 4-1 in the zone finals on Saturday. The latter win was satisfying, since Reed is the last wrestler to defeat Brooks - a 12-0 decision during a conference three-way meet on Jan. 12.
The man to beat at 140 pounds this weekend will be Josh Medina, a two-time state champion from Rancho.
For Shine, a 1998 state qualifier who missed out on the postseason last year due to an injury, the 135-pound bracket will be a difficult challenge simply because of Chris Harris from Cimarron-Memorial. Harris has won state 135-pound titles the last two years, and he captured his fourth zone title last weekend in Las Vegas. Shine pinned Elko's Jason Zander in the Northern 4A zone finals on Saturday.
Looking at the team picture, Galena is coming off its first zone championship last weekend, and now the Grizzlies will try to secure their first state title. To do so, however, the Grizzlies will have to dethrone defending state champion Cimarron-Memorial. The Spartans produced six individual champions and won their third straight Southern zone title last Saturday, prevailing by a 37.5-point margin over Las Vegas.
Galena is sending seven qualifiers, including zone champions Pat Nohr (heavyweight) and Michael Crooks (103). Nohr was no surprise, as the senior was seeded No. 1 coming into zone and swept through to improve his season record to 37-4. However, Crooks (46-5) pulled a surprise when he rallied to beat Elko's Forest Bogue 9-6 in the zone finals. Bogue had won three previous meetings over the past two years, including a one-point decision at the 1999 zone tournament.
Douglas is sending two qualifiers: Romaine Smokey (119) and Drew Hall (160). Smokey advanced to the zone finals before losing an 11-3 verdict to South Tahoe's undefeated Cavin Ross.