Considering his lack of experience on the mat, Merced High wrestler Romeo Ontiveros had a remarkable junior season.
Ontiveros wrestled one season in middle school. He spent his freshman year wrestling junior varsity and his sophomore season was cut short by a staph infection before he could compete at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet.
Ontiveros seemed to make up for all that, winning five tournament titles, including a Masters championship and qualifying for a berth in the CIF State Championship Meet in Bakersfield.
Ontiveros, who wrestled in the 152-pound division, finished with a 38-6 record to earn the Sun-Star’s Wrestler of the Year honor.
“He’s one of the hardest working kids I know,” said Merced coach Clayton Schneider. “He does everything we ask him to do. He took what we taught him and put it into motion on the mat. He beat kids this year that have been wrestling for 10 years. It shows that hard work can pay off.”
Ontiveros was at his best on the big stage.
He went 5-0 in tournament finals, winning titles at the Curt Mettler Tournament in Elk Grove, the Westside Invitational at Firebaugh, the Gregori Memorial in Modesto, the Central California Conference championships and the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters in Stockton.
This was coming off a sophomore season in which he only made is as fas as the finals at the CCC championships.
With each tournament title, Ontiveros gained more confidence.
“I started taking tournaments where last year I was just happy to place,” Ontiveros said. “This year I won my first tournament. I started winning most of my matches and even dominating matches. Making the finals of a tournament became the standard.”
Ontiveros was at his best at Masters, where he upset Kimball’s Trent Nicholson in the second round. That opened the door for his state title run.
Ontiveros knew something of Nicholson because Merced’s Mark Taijeron defeated Nicholson in the Masters final last year.
“Going into Masters I knew I had a tough draw with Nicholson in the second round,” Ontiveros said. “I knew he was going to be tough. My coaches had me working on open shots and keeping my feet moving because Nicholson is tough in tie-ups.”
The game plan was to make Nicholson wrestle six minutes. Even with Ontiveros trailing 3-0 heading into the third round, Team Ontiveros liked the position it was in.
“We knew if we could get a quick escape like we did we would be in a good spot to tie the match and go overtime,” Schneider said. “We were able to get the escape and a quick takedown. We decided to cut with about a minute and a half left because we didn’t want to give up a late escape. We wanted to push the pace.”
Ontiveros was able to take advantage on a tired Nicholson as Ontiveros caught him in a cradle and recorded a pin. The win proved to Ontiveros he was capable of beating anybody.
“I had beat the hardest guy in the bracket,” Ontiveros said. “I proved I could win it. Each match after that I was on edge. I was warming up 30 minutes earlier. It was like, ‘Wow, I can win this.’ ”
Ontiveros defeated McNair’s Roman Romero 9-5 to win the championship.
As much success as Ontiveros enjoyed this season, he said his 1-2 performance at state will serve as motivation as he prepares for his senior season.
After coming into Masters under the radar this year, Ontiveros knows he has a target on his back.
“I’ve just got to work harder from now on,” Ontiveros said. “I’m always willing to learn and adapt. We’ll see how it goes.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.