Stepping on to the medal stand at the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division individual wrestling championships in any year is memorable enough on its own.
For San Luis Obispo County high school wrestlers, though, doing so this season took on an even more special meaning.
A Central Coast gym hosted a divisional championship meet for the first time in more than 20 years Saturday, and a near-capacity crowd of about 2,000 people was in attendance at San Luis Obispo High.
Three county wrestlers won titles, and 13 others also finished in the all-important top five in their respective weight classes.
Those 16 punched tickets to the Southern Section Masters Meet, which will be held Feb. 25-26 at Temecula Valley High. The top nine place-winners there will advance to the overall state championships, which will be March 4-5 at Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena.
Taking home championships were Atascadero’s Michael Clemmensen (at 103 pounds) and Elijah Jackson (160) and Arroyo Grande’s Raul Uc (140).
Clemmensen, who came into the meet ranked No. 5 in the state in his class (No. 2 in the Southern Section) by TheCaliforniaWrestler.com, won by fall in three minutes, 32 seconds.
“It was really exciting,” Clemmensen said. “I knew I could do it, but it was pretty nerve-wracking before it, and after I won, it was just like, ‘Wow.’
“It was really fun getting to see friends come over and watch me wrestle for once,” he added.
Jackson also claimed a pin, leaving the mat after 5:35.
“It just feels great,” said Jackson, who entered the day ranked No. 7 at his weight statewide (third in the section). “My family’s here, everyone’s here.
“My goal is to be a state place-winner. Masters is just that stepping stone to get there.”
Former longtime Greyhounds head coach Chris Ferree recalled that the last time the event was held locally was in 1987, at Atascadero.
PAC 7 coaches have tried to secure postseason meets for years, but as the farthest-north league in the section encompassing nearly 600 schools, local followers have often had to drive more than four hours to make it, much less arrange travel accommodations.
“It was a blessing to have it at home,” Jackson said. “We have so much fan support — Paso, Righetti, Pioneer Valley, we all stick together and support each other.”
Uc, who started the championships ranked 10th in the state and second in the section in his class, pinned his finals opponent in 4:27.
“It was a rush,” Uc said. “It feels really good.”
Of the thrill of winning so close to home, Uc added with a smile, “Everybody was here. We’re 10 minutes away.”
Atascadero got a second-place finish at 189 pounds from Matt Ducasse, who was matched up with Morgan McIntosh from Cavalry Chapel of Santa Ana. Virtually the entire gym froze in its tracks to gaze upon the bout, as McIntosh, who has committed to Penn State, is rated by HSwrestling.net as the nation’s No. 1 college recruit regardless of weight class. McIntosh won by fall but Ducasse battled for 2:30.
“I knew I’d never have a chance to wrestle anybody near that caliber ever again,” Ducasse said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to make it this far. All I can do (at Masters) is just exceed my expectations.”
Jordan Gottfried (119 pounds), Paul Woodman (145) and Stephen Trockman (171) all placed third for the PAC 7 champion Greyhounds.
Paso Robles got a third-place finish from Colton Madrigal at 160 pounds, and fourth-place performances from Zak Holmes (103) and Jose Jimenez (heavyweight).
Robby Standley (112 pounds), Ryan Miller (125) and Cesar Delgado (171) took home fifth-place honors for the Bearcats.
For Morro Bay, Jaccob Carlson placed fourth at 140 pounds, and fifth-place medals were earned by Dolin Mininni (135) and Kent Beecham (145).
Atascadero was awarded the runner-up plaque, coming up just short in its bid to finish No. 1 in the team standings for the third consecutive year, finishing with 192.5 points. Calvary Chapel won with 219.
Paso Robles was sixth in the team standings at 135.5 points, followed by Morro Bay in 15th at 61, Arroyo Grande in 19th at 53, Nipomo in 36th at 16 and San Luis Obispo in 41st at 11.
Earning sixth-place finishes were Atascadero’s Matt Weir (at 125 pounds) and Abe Halterman (130), Paso Robles’ Kevan Garcia (135) and Arroyo Grande’s Colton Smith (215).