By John Philip Wyllie
112 pound San Diego County Masters wrestling champion Sergio Santillan will be in Bakersfield this weekend battling against the state’s top high school wrestlers. Santillan, who qualified for the prestigious event last year, hopes to cap a brilliant 2004 campaign with his best performance of the season.
“I’ll be going up to Bakersfield Thursday night. The tournament will be held Friday and Saturday. I’m not feeling any pressure going into it. My goal is to just do better than I did last year,” Santillan said.
As a sophomore, Santillan struggled against the more experienced wrestlers he faced in the tournament, but with an additional year of seasoning under his belt, he believes he can be more competitive this time around. To gain one of the coveted tournament berths is an achievement in itself, but never one to rest on his laurels, Santillan is headed to Bakersfield looking for more.
After winning a CIF title two weeks ago, Santillan had to face the county’s best wrestlers last weekend in the 2004 Masters Championship at Otay Ranch High School. He prevailed in the final with an 8-2 decision over Eastlake’s Marlon Frausto to become this year’s 112 pound Masters Champion.
“It was an 8-2 decision, but the match was a lot closer than it sounds. I was expecting to face (Calexico High School’s) Eddie Garcia in the final, but Marlon beat him in the semis,” Santillan said. “I was only leading by a few points most of the way. I got four of my points right at the end.”
Hilltop wrestling coach, Tim Tyler believes that Santillan’s drive and determination are what set him apart.
“I don’t have a kid on this team with a greater will to win,” Tyler said. “He is very driven in every aspect of his life. Sergio doesn’t have all the fancy moves that some of the other wrestlers have, but he has a very strong will to win.”
Santillan was just one of about a dozen Hispanic wrestlers to qualify for the 2004 State Meet. The lightest wrestler on that team, George Flores (105 pounds), who finished second to Valhalla’s Masters Champion Keith Juengst, became the first wrestler in nearly a decade to qualify from Bonita Vista High.
A strong performance in this weekend’s event will no doubt be noticed by the various college recruiters on hand. Santillan, who is as strong in the classroom as he is on the mat, is hoping to gain a college scholarship once he graduates from Hilltop in June of 2005.