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CHSs Balderas will continue wrestling career at San Francisco State
Gabe made history by qualifying for state three times
Gabe Balderas had a memorable four-year career with Ceres Highs wrestling program. Balderas posted a 156-42 record, advanced to State three times and won three WAC titles. - photo by Dale Butler

Gabe Balderas had a banner career with Ceres High's varsity wrestling program.

Balderas made history this year when he became the first grappler in program history to qualify for the CIF State Championships for the third time.

Gabe posted a 156-42 record over four seasons.

He won three Western Athletic Conference titles.

He placed first at Divisionals once.

He advanced to the finals at Masters twice.

He was a three-time team captain.

"Overall, I'm pretty satisfied," the 113-pound senior grappler said.

Balderas will continue his wrestling career at San Francisco State University. He earned a partial scholarship. Gabe signed a national letter of intent with the Gators on April 18.

"I visited the school over spring break," stated Balderas, who will compete at 125 pounds and major in Kinesiology. "I'll have a chance to start as a freshman. I'm ready. I want to do this for as long as I can."

Gabe compiled a 44-5 record, won one of three matches at State, garnered runner-up honors at Masters, took first at Divisionals for the first time and captured his third straight WAC title during his final season with the Bulldogs.

Balderas finished 41-14 overall, 2-2 at State, sixth at Masters, third at Divisionals and first at conference finals as a sophomore.

Gabe placed sixth at Divisionals and fifth at the Valley Oak League championships as an alternate his freshman year.

"The way he blossomed starting his sophomore year was amazing to watch," Ceres High head coach Jon Nowicki said. "I'm not surprised because of his work ethic. He put in the time during the offseason. He kept getting better and better. Gabe's unique. I still think he has a lot of room to improve. Hopefully, we see him on the podium at the national level."

Balderas considered continuing his wrestler career at Central College in Iowa before committing to the Gators.

"I didn't do as well as I should have at State," Balderas said. "I was a little worried. Luckily, San Francisco contacted me and told me they were still interested. It feels good. I'm going to enjoy the rest of my senior year."

Balderas' climb to elite status didn't happen overnight.

Gabe evolved after making the decision to increase his commitment level between seventh and eighth grade at Mae Hensley Jr. High.

He won just one match during his first season with the Ceres Hawks youth wrestling club in the sixth grade.
"I lacked experience," Balderas said. "I got outworked. It pushed me more. I've gotten a lot better. Wrestling's a grueling sport. It takes up all your time. It took me a while to get used to it. I don't know why I do it."

Gabe was a freshman at Ceres High when he traveled to Bakersfield to watch senior teammate Curtis Hulstine compete at State. Balderas' father, Gabriel, covered the cost of the trip.

"I told him we wouldn't be able to go back his sophomore year because it was expensive," Gabriel said. "I didn't expect him to make it yet (as a wrestler). He had a plan in his head and accomplished it. He's come a long way. He achieved more than I could ever imagine. I'm very proud of him."

Balderas will be remembered as one of the Bulldogs' all-time greatest wrestlers, alongside Charlie Davis, Gary McBride, Gary Krigbaum, Osvaldo Bertolotti, Bill Reisz, Joey Olivas, Jason Perry and Michael Scott.

A model student-athlete at Ceres High, Gabe maintained a 3.4 grade-point average.

"I'd put Gabe's name right up there with the best," Nowicki said.

Added Balderas: "Coming in as a freshman, I never thought I'd be this good. I've exceeded my expectations."