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CHS senior wrestlers garner special recognition
Bulldog grapplers compete at home gym for the final time
Ethan Letras (pictured with his parents) competed at home for the last time on Jan. 23. Letras and a host of other seniors wer e recognzied before the Ceres High-Pacheco dual. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Upperclassmen Daniel McElwain, Spencer Nelson, Jaden Cooper, Shanald Lal, Rafael Ortiz, Andrew Gibson, Ethan Letras, David Caravalho, Austin Hanshew and Jesus Salcedo were recognized during the Ceres High varsity boys wrestling program's 45-33 victory over Pacheco on Senior Night at Phil de la Porte Gymnasium on Jan. 23.

"I honored them for all the hard work they put in and all they accomplished," head coach Steve Festa said. "It's an end of an era. If I allow myself to stop and think about it, it will bring me to tears. I've gotten so close to them. I care about them so much. I wish I had more time with them."

"It was a very emotional night for me," said McElwain, who missed his entire junior year with a serious knee injury and opted to compete this season with a heart condition. "I can't put into words how good it felt (walking through the inflatable Bulldog tunnel). The support everybody gave me is amazing. I made so many friends in this sport. I'm lucky."

Second-place Ceres High evened its WAC dual-meet record at 2-2.

Last-place Pacheco dropped to 0-4.

McElwain won by pin over Isaiah Silva at 220 pounds.

Nelson won by pin over Albert Avila at 195 pounds.

Cooper won by pin over Jose Villasenor at 152 pounds.

Lal won by pin over Edwin Valdivia at 113 pounds.

Ortiz won by decision over Ayden Razo at 120 pounds.

Gibson won by forfeit at 170 pounds.

Letras lost by technical fall to Anthony Velazquez at 160 pounds.

Caravalho lost by pin to Daniel Aparicio at 182 pounds.

Ceres High's Sonald Lal won by forfeit at 106 pounds versus Pacheco.

Marcus Martinez won by forfeit at 126 pounds.

Christian Ibarra lost by decision to Jaime Garcia at 145 pounds.

Edison Jimenez lost by pin to Dionicio Navarro at 138 pounds.

Elias Saldana lost by pin to Cesar Jimenez at 285 pounds.

Ceres High lost by forfeit to Jose Navarro at 132 pounds.

"We had some good matches," Festa said. "It was back and forth. We did what we needed to do to get the win. I'm proud of their effort."

"It was closer than expected," Cooper added.

McElwain, Nelson, Caravalho and Ortiz have wrestled for Festa for the past six years.

"I've been coaching those four since they were seventh-graders at Mae Hensley," Festa said. "We experienced a lot together. I've seen them persevere though adversity."

"I can't say enough good things about Festa," McElwain said. "He's a great mentor. He's taught me so much. He's the best coach I've ever had. He doesn't just care about wins. He cares about each individual wrestler. That's what counts."

Cooper, Letras, Lal and Hanshew joined Ceres High's wrestling program in the ninth grade.

Gibson and Salcedo are second-year grapplers.

"It's a special class I have a special connection with," Festa said. "All of them were committed and helped each other get better every day. They never stopped pushing. They never made excuses. It's a tough grind. It's hard getting up early and staying up late. Not everybody can do it. A lot of people haven't."

"Time flew by extremely fast," Cooper said. "I loved wrestling in that gym, on that mat and under the spotlight. I'm going to miss it a lot."

Hillary Ortega, a first-year member of Ceres High's varsity girls wrestling program, and Bulldog rookie statistician Brisa Gonzalez also drew praise from Festa during Senior Night.