All the Titans needed to do was win the SCVAL Championships on Saturday at Cupertino High.
Gunn coach Chris Horpel knew he had a lineup that could get the job done and he was right. The Titans put 12 wrestlers among the top six and pinned down its first league crown since 1976 by scoring 195.50 points.
"What surprises me most is that of all the Gunn teams I have coached, I thought this was probably going to be mostly a rebuilding year," Horpel said. "I did not tell my team, that, of course. But, with our big gun and team leader, Stefan Weidemann graduating, I just did not think we had the manpower to contend for a league title.
"However, what I love about high school wrestling is how quickly kids can improve. You can go from never having wrestled (like three of our CCS qualifiers) to winning a tournament in about one month! That's a lot different than collegiate coaching. When you add in how athletic some of our first-year wrestlers are, we suddenly had a team — a solid wrestler at all 14 weight divisions when they were at the final weight divisions."
Gunn came close to winning the tournament in 2008 but finished second to Los Gatos. The Titans qualified 13 wrestlers to CCS that year, but didn't have nearly as many of those qualifiers finish in the top three — like Gunn did Saturday.
Gunn held an early lead in the 15-team tournament when almost everyone on the team made it to the semifinals. In the semifinals, however, several Titans dropped some crucial matches that they were winning.
"I was getting pretty upset with the number of kids who were winning handily only to come up short in that semifinal round," Horpel said. "Our team really rallied, however, in the wrestle-backs and came through with a lot of wins and pins, giving us the team points we needed.
"That is where we won the tournament. If just two of our wins in the wrestles-backs had gone the other way, we would not have come home with this title. I am really proud of this team . . . what a great group of kids and coaches."
Gunn last won when it competed in the South Peninsula Athletic League. The Titans won the tournament every year from 1972 to '76 under head coach Bill Sperry. Gunn then moved to the SCVAL and finished second in the first season there. Horpel was an assistant at Paly that year before being asked to take over the Gunn program for the 1977-78 season. Horpel's first team again finished second.
"So, we had come close a few times since 1976," he said. "But, just didn't quite get it done. What's most surprising is that it has taken this long to win it again!
"This year has been a year of exceeding my expectations. When we won the Lynn Dyche Classic just before winter break, especially by such a wide margin, it was a complete shock to me. That's when I knew we had a special group of kids on the team this year. They were winning most of their close matches, showing an amazing amount of heart. And, having five medalists and placing sixth at Mid Cals is kind of like placing that high in CCS. I am really excited to see what we can do in CCS this year. Hopefully, we will once again exceed my expectations!"
Los Gatos was second (182.50), Monta Vista finished third (165.50) and defending champion Palo Alto managed just fourth with 148.50 after winning the dual-match title with a 5-1 record, the same as Gunn's. The Titans' only loss was to Paly.
Gunn had only one individual champion in Chris Jin at 145. He went 3-0 and topped his effort with a 13-1 major decision over Samer El Nounou of Fremont to improve to 25-2 this season.
The Titans, however, had one second-place finish, six thirds and two fourths. Out of its roster of 14, only two failed to advance to the Central Coast Section Championships in two weeks at Independence High in San Jose.
Gunn's qualifiers included: Cadence Lee (third at 103), Daniel Papp (sixth at 113), Ian Cramer (third at 120), Eric Cramer (third at 126), Julian Calderon (third a 152), Casey Jackson (second at 160), Marco Lopez-Mendoza (third at 170), James Foy (fourth at 182), Sean Lydster (fourth at 195), JJ Strnad (third at 220) and Harsha Mokkarala (fourth at 285).
Palo Alto, which was gunning for its first back-to-back league meet title since the 1960s, finished with three individual champions — Nick Ortiz at 132, Kalen Gans at at 160 and Erik Anderson at 182. Ortiz and Gans were defending champions.
Ortiz decision Edward Garcia of Fremont in the finals, 7-1; Gans pinned Gunn's Casey Jackson in 1:02, and Anderson pinned Faris Karaborni of Monta Vista in just 0:50.
Palo Alto wound up with nine qualifiers for CCS — Joey Christopherson (fourth at 126), Ortiz, Trent Marshall (third at 138), Ryan Oshima (fifth at 154), Gans, Anderson, Andrew Frick (third at 195), Alex Taussig (seventh at 220) and Tanner Marshall (sixth at 285). Taussig advanced because the top seven qualified out of his weight class.