The sign on the wall of the El Camino High School mat room asks one question of the wrestlers who practice inside: How far do you want to go?
It lists three destinations and how far away from El Camino each one is.
San Mateo, the site of the PAL tournament, is nine miles. Independence High School in San Jose, which hosts the CCS tournament, is 49 miles. The last destination is Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, 291 miles away, where the state tournament will be held.
Like most of his fellow Peninsula Athletic League wrestlers, El Camino’s Brian Ha has already made it to the first destination, capping off his PAL tournament with a thrilling win over Half Moon Bay’s John Claitor in the 125-pound class last weekend at Burlingame High School.
But Ha’s journey to San Mateo this year actually began two days after he lost his last match at last year’s state tournament.
“He was winning that last match at state going into the third period,” El Camino coach Cliff Lentz recalled. “But he got caught and lost. That was on Saturday. He took Sunday off and Monday he was already training for this year.”
So when Ha was paired up with Claitor — the top-seeded wrestler in the Central Coast Section at 125 pounds — in Saturday’s championship match, Lentz wasn’t the least bit surprised by the result. The two went into the final period deadlocked at 0-0 and it appeared that would be the final score until the final two seconds when Ha scored a match-winning take-down and claimed the PAL title.
The Colts senior has also claimed the No. 1 seed in the 125-pound class going into the CCS Tournament in San Jose, which begins on Friday.
“He needed that win to erase any doubts he might have had,” Lentz said. “Especially since John had beaten him earlier this year.”
But Lentz and Ha know Claitor will also be in San Jose and a rematch in the CCS finals is almost an absolute certainty.
“John is a heck of a wrestler and he’s going to be licking his wounds and waiting for a rematch,” Lentz said.
Barring a crazy upset, Ha will likely make his final trip to state and, after just missing a medal last year, should be an early favorite to make it to the finals in Bakersfield.
“When he goes to state, we expect he will do so as the CCS champion and he’ll do well at state too,” Lentz said. “Of all the kids I’ve coached in seven years, no one has been more dedicated to the sport than Brian.”
WHAT: CCS wrestling championships
WHEN: Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Independence High School, San Jose