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Divisionals offer Woods a chance at redemption

Del Oro advanced all 14 wrestlers to divisionals for the first time since the 1990s
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS – Tanner Woods has felt what a less-than-stellar performance this time of the year feels like. As a freshman last season Woods qualified for the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division II wrestling tournament but finished seventh, one spot outside the number he needed to advance to Masters. Asked what he took away from last year that will help him this season, Del Oro High’s 220-pounder spoke as mature as he looks. “A lot more physical maturity, a lot more muscle memory and practice,” said Woods, now a sophomore who looks more like a tested senior. “I just think the experience of already having been there will take away from the nervousness and the edge that I had as a freshman.” Woods joins his entire team in this year’s divisionals, which will be hosted by Del Oro on Friday and Saturday with matches beginning at 11 a.m. both days. Del Oro advanced all 14 starting wrestlers to the two-day tournament for the first time since the 1990s. Nine of the Eagles’ wresters are seeded as a first or second seed after they finished in the top two in last week’s Sierra Foothill League tournament. The high seeds set the stage for Del Oro to advance much of its team to Masters, which begin Feb. 23 in Stockton. The top six wrestlers at divisionals advance and the higher seeds usually have an easier road. “Last week was important for them to move on and every tournament affects the next tournament, your seeding,” Del Oro co-coach Dave Sanchez said. “A fourth-place finish in league is going to face a No. 1 really quick at divisionals. A first place is vice versa and it works out really well. So, every tournament has an affect on the next tournament.” Del Oro’s Austin Branum, who is ranked 11th in the country, is the beneficiary of a higher seed. As the top-seeded 152-pound wrestler he gets a first-round bye and can sit and watch the potential second-round matchup of Granite Bay’s Adam Wagner, who is ranked ninth in the state, and Oakmont’s Jake Elliott, last year’s 145-pound state champ and the fourth-ranked 152-pounder this season behind Branum. The senior, who has wins over both Wagner and Elliott, wouldn’t see either wrestler until the finals if he wins his first two bouts. Top-seeded wrestlers aren’t the only ones Sanchez expects to win. Ian Gassaway (120), Tanner Robinson (126) and Clayton Hillenbrand (160) are all four seeds who will face three seeds. “I expect them to win their first match,” Sanchez said. “And they don’t have to win their second match, they’re going to have a No. 1 guy next, but they might, you never know.” The tournament features wrestlers from the SFL, Metro Conference and Capital Valley Conference, which is the league Bella Vista is in. The Eagles beat Bella Vista on Feb. 4 at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Team Duals, after they finished as runner-up nine times since 1998. Dylan Kainrath was second string last season and didn’t go to divisionals despite beating several state qualifiers. This year, the sophomore is the No. 1 seed at 170 pounds. Zach Ruybal is the Eagles’ other No. 1 seed at 113. No matter what their seed, though, Woods knows all too well the difference between qualifying for Masters and being left behind. “Everything comes down to mistakes that you made in matches,” said Woods, who missed the beginning of this season as he finished up football season for the CIF Division II state runner-up Eagles. “So far I’ve had a pretty good season (despite) coming in late. I’ve been seeded pretty good in a lot of tournaments but I think if I would have gone to Masters (last year) it would have been just a little bit better.”