Karson Block set two goals for himself this wrestling season: Go undefeated in league and win a CIF-Southern Section title.
With another season still to capture the former, the Atascadero High junior was more than satisfied in achieving just the latter.
Block, the PAC 7 champion at 195 pounds, notched a title-winning takedown in the first overtime of his match against top-seeded Emu Anaim of Woodbridge at the Southern Section Central Division tournament this past weekend at Norte Vista High in Riverside.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Block, who was the No. 3 seed in his bracket. “I couldn’t believe it had just happened. I couldn’t process it. I stood up and all I could do was just yell.”
After winning his first three bouts with relative ease and toppling second-seeded Stephen Schaap of Ayala 8-1 in the semifinals, Block advanced to face Anaim, who had won all four of his earlier round matches by fall, including three in less than 35 seconds.
“I knew he was a strong pinner, but I knew if I could get to the later rounds, he’d get tired,” Block said. “That’s when I could beat him.”
Block weathered the early storm, but not without sustaining some damage. He trailed 4-0 entering the third period.
As the bout wore on and Anaim started to fade, Block, who also plays football and baseball, began to shine.
He earned a quick escape to get on the scoreboard, and forced Anaim into a stalling call to pull within two. With less than half a minute remaining, Block got his first takedown of the match on a double-leg to tie the score at 4 and send the bout into overtime.
“Down 4-0, there was a little doubt (in my mind), but at the same time, this was what I had wanted for so long,” Block said. “Looking up into the crowd and seeing all of the PAC 7 sitting together and looking into my corner and seeing that my coaches were still behind me — that gave me more energy and more motivation.”
The first overtime in wrestling is a one-minute, sudden-death period, where a point of any kind wins the match. Almost the entire minute had passed when Block converted another double-leg maneuver near the edge of the mat, keeping his toes firmly pressed inside the circle to register his takedown inbounds.
The whistle blew. The tournament was over and Block was the last man standing.
“Ever since I started wrestling, I always wanted to win CIF,” Block said. “To finally have a dream like that come true, it’s just — wow, I still can’t even really put it into words.”
Block’s wrestling career began at the age of 6, growing up in a family full of grapplers. His dad wrestled at Arroyo High, and his uncle was a section champion. Block grew up watching his older cousins excel on the mat, so it only felt natural that he follow suit.
“I think I kind of always wanted to work hard at it,” he said. “I looked at my older cousins, my dad and my uncle and say, ‘Hey, I want to be like them.’”
Block was one match away from placing at last year’s Southern Section tournament, wrestling at 152 pounds.
He tacked on 40 pounds during the offseason in preparation for football, and found his speed helped him when wrestling at the bigger weights.
“He’s definitely quicker than most of the guys he faces,” Atascadero coach Trevor Tice said. “It’s one of those things where you might not be as strong, but a bit faster. He wrestles really good on his feet … and he’s getting better with every match.”
Block is 38-3 this season, and his only loss in league was to Jimmy Pacheco in a dual against Paso Robles in Atascadero on Feb. 4.
Pacheco scored an escape with 12 seconds remaining to earn a 4-3 decision, but Block got his revenge in the rematch, winning 8-0 in the finals of the PAC 7 Tournament.
“I wrestled a lot more aggressively than I did in the first match,” Block said. “I wrestled like I had something to prove.”
The two could potentially face off again this season, with both qualified for this weekend’s Southern Section Masters tournament at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. The meet begins today and concludes Saturday.
Ten wrestlers from San Luis Obispo County will participate in the event, which sends the top nine finishers of each weight class to the state meet in Bakersfield March 7-8.
Joining Block from Atascadero are Cruz Mendoza (106 pounds) and Ryan Lombardi (160), while Kameron Morones (120), Trevor Torres (126) and Zack Holmes (152) join Pacheco from the Bearcats.
Morro Bay’s Richard Beecham (145) and Chris Maez (182) and Nipomo’s Michael Renner (195) round out the local wrestlers vying for a shot at state.
“Going into Masters, I just want to keep doing what I need to do to get better,” Block said. “There’s still stuff I want to accomplish.”