When his arm was raised high in the air after winning the Northern Section Masters championship match, Jonathon Villapania was filled with just about every emotion possible. But one feeling was missing—satisfaction.
Since the first time he took the mat in the second grade, his sights were set on being a champion. Starved and exhausted after his final match on Saturday, he refused to waste a moment of preparation making that dream come true.
He briefly took in the praise from his teammates, coaches, friends and family. He didn’t head to the snack bar to satisfy his hunger. He didn’t grab a seat to catch his breath. Instead, Villapania walked outside the Redding Civic Center, and he started running.
His coaches and family will tell you that it’s that kind of hard work and dedication that’s turned him into one of the top wrestlers in California, and the way he performs on the mat—as well as the football field—is a testament to his work ethic and his heart.
Villapania went into Masters sporting a 37-3 record in his junior season. He picked up championship medal after championship medals throughout the year prior to winning the Butte View League championship and the Northern Section Division II title.
But there were still a few unbelievers out there. After making his way from 19th in the state rankings to 14, Villapania was dropped two spots just before Masters despite performing flawlessly in the latter half of the season. But a real champion isn’t concerned with the numbers. His only response: “Let them doubt me.”
And he was sure to have quelled a few of those doubters this past weekend.
The Gridley Grappler, as he was recently dubbed by the media, tore through the Masters brackets as if he was the only 145-pounder that should be there. Seeded first in his weight class, Villapania had just three points scored on him the entire weekend.
In his first match, he took out Shasta’s Eduardo Martinez by tech fall, 16-1. Martinez’ single point came from a penalty. His second match of Day 1 ended in another tech-fall, 15-0, over Corning’s Tony Carrillo. Villapania carried the momentum over to the second day of the tournament and was victorious yet again via tech-fall, 15-0, in a semi-final bout against David Buckley from Modoc.
Finally, after nine years of wrestling, Villapania was finally where he wanted to be—wrestling for the section championship.
His opponent, Oroville’s Michael Ripley, was no pushover. Ripley came into Master ranked just below Villapania at 18th. But Villapania was confident and ready.
“All season my coaches have pushed me, critiqued me, and prepared me for this match,” he said. “I knew I had to take good shots, be aggressive, and be smart.”
“I knew exactly what I had to do to win a section championship.”
After a scoreless first half, Ripley, the defending 132-pound section champion, took a 2-1 lead in the second period. Villapania admits he was a little disappointed with how he began the match.
“I felt like I didn’t wrestle the first half of my match up to my standards and expectations,” he contended. “I felt as if I should have taken more shots and been more aggressive than I was. I didn’t wrestle the way I always wrestle.”
Ripley’s lead was short lived however. Villapania picked up a point on an escape to balance the score, followed by a take down. As the clock hit zero, the slap of the referee’s hand on the mat echoed through the building. With the call in question, a second ref confirmed that the pin beat the clock.
Now, with a conference, division, and section crown to his name, Villapania will head to Bakersfield this weekend where he will face the rest of the best 145-pound wrestlers in the State of California.
“I know that every match is going to be a battle, but I am prepared and confident,” he said.
“I will not give up or put my head down in any situation whether I get down in points or get taken down. I will continue to keep my head up.”
Villapania will go head-to-head with Clovis’ Jared Hill, a sophomore ranked 21st in the State. Hill placed third at the Central Section Masters. He lost to Buchanan’s Conner Francis, ranked 5th in the state, in the semi-finals.
Teammate and team captain Haiden Johnson will join Villapania in Bakersfield for the second year in a row. Johnson, who returned from an injury just last week yet still won the divisional title, earned his ticket to State with a third place finish on Saturday.
After winning his first match over Enterprise’s Colton Phillips by an 11-0 major decision, Johnson was knocked off his path to a Masters championship in a narrow 3-5 decision to Corning’s Devon Hiller.
Johnson made his way back towards the top after pinning Wheatland’s Sebastian Grimaldi 53 seconds into his third match.
Johnson bumped Sutter’s Jace Heryford out of the tournament after a 12-0 major decision in the first match of Day 2.
In the consolation semi-finals against Modoc’s Steven Aceves, Johnson showed his determination. Johnson refused to give up to the point where he was choked unconscious briefly. After regaining his composure, Johnson fought back to earn a 8-7 decision after earning a takedown in the final moments of the match.
Johnson earned his third place medal after pinning Paradise’s Levi Morgan with just one second remaining in the first period.
The 42nd annual CIF State Boys Wrestling Championships will be held at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield on March 7-8.