"This was great for (Cota). He's feeling really confident about his abilities right now, and he should be," said Patterson coach Virgil Canseco. "He is starting to believe that he can compete at the next level."
Cota will receive his chance to reach the California Interscholastic Federation State Wrestling Championships this Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, March 1 at the Masters tournament at Stockton Arena.
Cota will return to Masters for a third consecutive season on the strength of a first-place finish Saturday. Only the top four wrestlers in each of the 14 weight classes advanced to Masters.
Wrestlers who finish in the top seven in each weight class at the Stockton event qualify to compete for state titles at the CIF tournament Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8, at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
The divisional title by Cota was hardearned. Abbate placed second at the Western Athletic Conference meet, which was held Feb. 15 at Ceres High School, in the 132-pound class, runner-up to Cota, a three-time league champion.
On Saturday, both grapplers brought experience to the mat with them, and challenged each other from the opening seconds. But the Patterson star gained the lead during the second period and stubbornly held on until the end.
Last year, in his second season of varsity competition, Cota posted a third-place finish at 120 pounds in the Division IV tournament. He will have a shot to improve on last season's 0-2 mark at Masters.
"This season, (Cota) got over that hump and got that divisional championship," Canseco said. "The next step is to make it to state -- that's the goal. If he stays focused and keeps working hard, I think he's got a good shot at it."
Also advancing and representing the Tigers is freshman Adrian Luna, who posted a third-place finish at 106 pounds. Luna needed less than one round with Kainoa Caseillo of Tracy's Kimball High before earning a pin in the third place match.
"I was really impressed with how (Luna) came in and forced the action," Canseco said. "He's a good, tough wrestler. And he's right where we expected him to be. He put in a lot of work with the team over the summer."
Patterson, which placed eighth out of 22 schools, sent 10 wrestlers to the Division IV tournament. Senior Manuel Cruz (138 pounds), freshman Michael Boschi (160) and sophomore Jerry Arredondo (170) joined Cota and Luna on the mats Saturday but narrowly missed out on advancing, each garnering a sixth-place finish.
When it comes to athletics, one's health and success go hand-in-hand. When Cruz was struck with a shoulder injury in his semifinal match against Los Banos' Jesus Valdez, the pain made wrestling nearly impossible.
Hampered by his injured shoulder, Cruz -- a two-time Masters qualifier -- took one final stab at prep mat glory Saturday. The effort was noticed by Canseco.
"He basically wrestled with one arm," Canseco said. "Even though he was injured, he wanted to go out and wrestle and give it one more shot. And that's all we can ask."
Now the goal is to get the two local wrestlers who moved up ready for their best competition yet.
"We're working out with Modesto High this week. There are some state champions and state qualifiers on that team," Canseco said. "I'm happy these two guys are moving on. I'm hoping we get them through this week, and then go to Masters and see what we can do there."
Contact Marc Aceves at 892-6187, ext. 28, or firstname.lastname@example.org.