By Richard Dunn     2/17/2015

Not all hope is lost.

As wrestlers gear up for the Trinity League finals Feb. 13, Orange County’s top-ranked team, Servite, will get another shot at Bellflower St. John Bosco.

The Friars lost to Bosco in a league dual meet, 37-29, but the league finals will represent an opportunity for Servite to claim a share of the Trinity League championship.

“They are still a powerhouse,” Mater Dei coach Luis Renteria says of the Friars, who have finished first or near the top in every tournament in which they’ve competed this season, their only dual-meet blemish coming against visiting St. John Bosco on Jan. 22. “Sometimes when it comes to the dual-meet season, a dual can be different with wrestlers’ performances and how they compete individually,” says Renteria. “Servite is still the team to beat.”

To claim third place in the Trinity League dual-meet season, Mater Dei defeated Santa Margarita, 45-28, on the road, and the Monarchs have their eyes set on upsetting the field at the league finals.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Renteria says. “We need to be ready mentally and they have to believe in themselves. The hardest part about coaching in this sport is getting the kids to believe that they can compete at the highest level. If we can make them believe, the whole thing turns around.”

For Mater Dei, 126-pound freshman Bradley Smith outscored his Santa Margarita opponent, 11-5, before winning by pin, while 145-pounder Julie Calzada put her opponent on his back on the mat several times before pinning her Eagle challenger. Mater Dei’s Jed Smith (195) and Garret Wright (132) also won their matches by pins.

Sean Carroll (160) and Dylan Johnson (182) won by decision and major decision, respectively, for Santa Margarita, and are expected to be two of the Eagles’ most competitive wrestlers at the league finals.

For Servite, its loss to St. John Bosco was a first this season in an otherwise celebrated campaign.

“We hope that all 14 [wrestlers] are league placers and truly believe that we can get 14 qualified out of CIF to Masters if we keep going at the rate we currently are,” Servite coach Alan Clinton says.

Of the two wrestlers in each of the 14 weight divisions in the Orange County All-Star Classic at Marina High Jan. 19, Servite occupied 11 of the spots with Liam Cronin (106), A.J. Silva (120), Noah Blakley (126), Wolfgang Bernal (132), J.J. Reed (145), Angel Cordova (152), Gordon Livermore (170), Michael Vasquez (182), Parker Saltzman (195), Kyle Paterson (220) and heavyweight V.J. Leuta.

Earlier, Servite qualified seven competitors to the championship quarterfinals in the prestigious Five Counties Invitational at Fountain Valley: Cronin, Blakley, Cordova, Vasquez, Saltzman, Paterson and Leuta. Servite finished with seven medalists, one finalist and a second place in the 60-plus team tournament, the school’s best finish ever at the tournament.

“We have had a very good start (this season),” Clinton says. “All 14 have stepped up and surprised us with their fantastic performances. All 14 are going above and beyond, or we would not be in the position we are in. We can’t be as solid as we are without everyone doing their part.”

Last year, Servite had five Trinity League champions, including Blakley, Saltzman and Paterson, and 10 CIF placers, including Cronin, Blakley, Reed and Livermore.

Mater Dei, meanwhile, is hoping wrestlers Johnny McLaughlin, Trevor Perez, Wright, Calzada, Bradley Smith, Jed Smith and senior Kevin Jacobs can carry the Monarchs deep into the 2015 postseason.

“The Trinity League’s top three teams are Servite, St. John Bosco and we’ve been blessed to have an OK season,” says Renteria, whose squad also defeated Orange Lutheran in a Trinity League dual match. “We have a lot of young kids, but right now we’re in third heading into league finals.”

Mater Dei’s first real test of the season came at the Beach Bash Tournament at Edison High, where the Monarchs had six medalists. They had five medalists, including 106-pound champion McLaughlin, at the Cavalier Classic Tournament at Santiago, where Mater Dei finished fourth.

Jacobs was one of six Mater Dei wrestlers who placed in the top three at the league finals last year.

Before becoming head coach at Mater Dei four years ago in an effort to resurrect the program, Renteria coached at his alma mater, Los Amigos, followed by a short stint at Century, five years at Mission Viejo and five years at Edison, where he won a CIF championship in his first year. Renteria coached 10 state qualifiers and three state placers at Edison, where he earned Sunset League and Orange County Coach of the Year honors.