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Wrestlers have great expectations
Gabriel Balderas watched Ceres High teammate Curtis Hulstine compete at the 2009-10 CIF State Wrestling Championships at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena.

"That made me want to go back and actually be in the tournament," Gabriel said.

Balderas exceeded his own expectations by qualifying for state as a 112-pound sophomore last year.

"Not a lot of people thought I'd make it that far," Gabriel said. "I was two rounds away from placing. I want to do better this year. I'm looking forward to the season."

Balderas won two of four matches en route to a top-16 finish at state.

He had an overall record of 41-14.

He posted several upsets on his way to a sixth-place finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet. He edged Buhach Colony's Johnny Salazar 2-1 in the quarterfinals. He lost twice by decision to Salazar earlier in the year.

Balderas placed third at Divisionals.

He also won the Western Athletic Conference title.

"My goal was to get my name out there," Gabriel said. "I worked hard throughout the season. I had lots of fun."

Balderas improved dramatically following his eighth-place finish at the Big Valley Classic Wrestling Tournament.

"That gave me a boost of confidence," he said.

Gabriel will have a target on his back this season.

He welcomes the challenge and added pressure.

He enjoys being a team leader.

"I'm prepared for it," said Balderas, who's been wrestling since the sixth grade. "It makes me work harder. I'll go into matches more confident."

Gabriel could face off against Modesto High sophomore Emilio Saavedra this year. Saavedra finished third at state in the 103-pound division and won 52 of 54 matches during his freshman year at Pitman. He captured a national title in Ohio last April.

Balderas lost to Saavedra at the youth level.

"I'm looking forward to wrestling him," Gabriel said. "He'll really show me where I'm at."

With assistance from Ceres High coaches Jon Nowicki and Steve Festa, and father Gabe, Balderas will try to earn a return trip to Bakersfield.

"When I wrestle, I zone out the crowd," Gabriel said. "I only focus on what my coaches are saying and what I'm doing."

Just three Bulldogs have advanced to the CIF State Meet in the last 10 years: Balderas, Hulstine and Michael Scott (2002).

Charlie Davis, a 1998 Ceres High grad, took first his senior year.

"It would mean a lot to get back to state and medal," Gabriel said. "It would help me get into college."