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Five Bulldogs wrap up grappling careers at Masters tournament
Ceres High varsity boys wrestling head coach Steve Festa (pictured left) will be losing a host of talent to graduation this June. Daniel McElwain (right), Spencer Nelson, Ethan Letras, Jaden Cooper and Shanald Lal competed for the Bulldogs for the last time at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships this past week in Stockton. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

Seniors Daniel McElwain, Spencer Nelson, Ethan Letras, Jaden Cooper and Shanald Lal represented Ceres High's varsity boys wrestling program for the final time this past week.

McElwain, Nelson, Letras, Cooper and Lal competed at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championships, staged Feb. 23-24, at Stockton Arena.

The top six finishers in each weight class advanced to the CIF State Meet.

"It's a tough tournament," head coach Steve Festa said. "Not making it to state won't define them for the rest of their lives. They're some of the best wrestlers to ever come through our program. They'll be remembered for the right reasons."

McElwain compiled a 2-2 record in the 215-pound weight division.

He collected wins against Lincoln of Stockton's Isaac Davalos (decision, 6-2) and Galt's Anthony Nazzisi (decision, 7-2).

Daniel lost to Whitney's Christian Cornes (pin, 1:25) and Bear Creek's Armando Fuentes (major decision (13-1).

McElwain opted to wrestle this year despite dealing with a life-threatening heart issue.

He placed first at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament and third at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Championships.

"He did everything on his terms," Festa said. "I'm so proud to be his coach and mentor. He's changed me and motivated me in my ways."

Nelson won two of four matches at 182 pounds.

"He wrestled great," Festa said. "He lost some close matches."

Spencer beat Monterey Trail's Russell De Vera (pin) and Mira Loma's Samuel Jasso (major decision, 16-2).

He lost to Del Oro's Adam Lowe (pin, 1:59) and Vintage's James Robert (decision, 10-3).

Nelson claimed titles at the Division-IV and WAC tournaments.

"He's one of the toughest competitors on my team and he shows it on the mat," Festa said. "He never ceases to amaze me. He never lets me down."

Cooper won one of three matches at 145 pounds.

Jaden topped Edison's Andrew Villalobos (major decision, 14-2).

He lost to Folsom's Caiden Cohen (decision, 6-5) and Waterford's Edmond Adams (major decision, 11-3).

"I wasn't very happy with my performance," Cooper said. "I definitely think I could have wrestled better. The pressure kind of got to me. It's upsetting. It is what it is. I can't do anything to change it."

Jaden finished first at Divisionals and league.

"I worked hard all of the other years," Cooper said. "But I worked even harder this year. I put in a lot of hours."

"He set the example," Festa said. "He was always first to practice and last to leave. He was dedicated. He loved the sport."

Letras (160s) and Lal (113s) both compiled identical 0-2 records.

He lost to Calaveras' Donivan Giangregoria (decision, 15-11) and Lodi's Caleb Byrd (pin, 5:52).

Ethan followed in the footsteps of two family members by winning a conference title.

He finished fourth at Divisionals.

"He competed at a high level," Festa said. "He lived up to his heritage He's a third-generation league champion."

Lal was beaten by Tracy's Eli Blackwell (pin, 0:31) and Enochs' Michael Moore (pin, 0:30).

Shanald took fourth at Divisionals and league.

"He's so deserving of what he achieved," Festa said. "He exceeded his goal. He just wanted to win one match at Divisionals."

McElwain, Nelson, Letras, Cooper and Lal will be remembered for their individual success and helping Ceres High continue its winning ways this winter.

The Bulldogs defended their championship at the WAC Tournament.

"It was nice being on a team that did that," Cooper said. "I had a fun year. I wouldn't change anything."

"This season was very special," Festa said. "We accomplished a lot. It will be remembered for many years."

Daniel, Spencer, Ethan, Jaden and Shanald will graduate from Ceres High in June.

"It's part of the journey," Festa said. "But it doesn't make it any easier. You always want more for your guys. I'm proud of them. They left everything on the mat. They did their best. I have great relationships with all of them. I'm going to be their coach and friend for the rest of their lives."

Added Cooper: "I have a lot of great memories and learned so many things along the way."