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Branum’s state title quest kicks into high gear

Del Oro star joins 14 other local wrestlers at Masters today, Friday in Stockton
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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Austin Branum wasn’t born with a wrestling pedigree but the Del Oro senior sure has made a career out of the sport. As Branum gears up for his last chance at a state title he isn’t in the mood to reminisce about past glory. Not about the Triple Crown he won as a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old. Not about the CIF Masters title he won last season. Not about his current state (third) or national rankings (11th). The 152-pounder remains focused. After all, it’s what got him this far. “I just have to think about all the workouts I’ve done and all the practices,” Branum said. “I’ve just got to know that I’ve put all my effort into those so I’ve got to go out there without any doubts in my mind that I’m going to win. So I’m just trying to focus on knowing that I’m going to come out on top, hopefully.” Branum joins nine of his Golden Eagles teammates and five other area wrestlers today at the CIF Masters tournament at Stockton Arena, where the best wrestlers, regardless of the school’s division, will meet to determine who moves on to the state tournament. The top six wrestlers in each weight class will advance to the March 2-3 tournament in Bakersfield. This is far from Branum’s first performance on a large stage. He has shown his talent early and often and had Del Oro coaches Dave Sanchez and Clint Madden salivating at the future when they first saw him. “When he was a little kid he was in our wrestling room and then he traveled to different places, going back and forth, getting practices all the time,” Sanchez said. “He was always such a good kid too and when he got into high school he just proved his work ethic right away.” Branum doesn’t come from a long line of wrestlers. His dad wrestled in high school but didn’t force the sport on him. Branum tried soccer and jiu-jitsu as a youth but made the switch to wrestling as a 4-year-old when his jiu-jitsu coach moved onto the sport. He won national tournaments in Greco-Roman, freestyle and collegiate-wrestling — considered the sport’s Triple Crown — in consecutive years. But if you ask Branum about it he downplays its importance. “It wasn’t Triple Crown in high school or anything,” Branum said. “It was just back in little kid days. It’s a big deal but high school is just such a different level. I mean, kids back then are not nearly as good as some kids are nowadays…You can’t really look at it like that, it was kind of a long time ago.” Wrestling has taken most of Branum’s time since he was young. He was on the track team as a freshman, raced in motocross and finds time to snowboard once in a while, but he has remained a one-sport athlete the bulk of his life. Wrestling taught Branum the same thing it teaches most successful wrestlers: How to overcome adversity. That lesson has been on display this year. Branum, who won the Masters at 140 pounds and qualified for state, was overlooked by the national and state rankings in favor of Oakmont’s Jake Elliott, last year’s 145-pound state champ. After Branum lost a 23-8 decision to the state’s No. 1-ranked 152- pounder, Isaiah Martinez of Lemoore, earlier in the season he rebounded to upset Elliott, who was ranked ninth in the nation, 4-3 at the Tim Brown Memorial. “Sure, like I said, everybody is going to talk about a state champion but let’s hope they’re talking about Austin at the end of the year too,” Sanchez said. After the win, Branum climbed to 11th in the nation but lost to Elliott 8-5 in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II tournament Feb. 18. The two are likely destined for another meeting Friday in the final round of the Masters. Another Masters title and a chance to join B.J. Mitchell and Micah Ferguson as Del Oro’s only state winners may solidify Branum’s dream of wrestling for Cal Poly, which has offered him a partial scholarship. “Hopefully, that would be nice,” Branum said.