By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– Repeating as State Champion is a tough task to do when you factor in fatigue, other wrestlers gunning for you and the possible Championship hangover.
Mixed in an injury as North Salem Antonio Garcia had with his knee banged up entering his Senior Year in the State Tournament following his only District Championship victory, and you would think the mountain back to repeating would be like climbing Mount Everest.
“This year. Just because I won Districts, my foot isn’t any much off the pedal,” said Garcia back on February 22, 2020 following his 220-pound District Championship victory over Central’s Gabriel Padilla. “I got to keep going. I got to keep working hard and got to prepare to repeat as a State Champion.”
After reaching the State Tournament his Sophomore year with his mentor and training partner, Jorge Ochoa, finishing his High School career with a fifth-place finish; Garcia returned with a vengeance his Junior Year to the State tournament with back-to-back pins and a major decision to reach the 5A 220-pound State Championship. That’s where he won his first title 3-2 in overtime over the top-seed Keith Brown of Lebanon.
Garcia was a fifth-seed his Junior year.
“It show me that nothings easy but nothings impossible if you want it you can’t expect to deserve it you got to work and my goal still isn’t completed,” starts Garcia on Tuesday. “If anything I’m going work harder to prove that these division-1 coaches are making a mistake passing up on me that is was goal and is and knowing that that harder I work that greater I succeed is just going to make me push it to the max with every opportunity that I have.”
North Salem Head Wrestling Coach Andy Pickett admits it’s awesome to see the development of Garcia into the number one wrestler at 220-pounds this past season in 5A as a Senior in the State of Oregon according to The Oregon Wrestling Forum.
“It’s freaking awesome,” said Pickett Thursday. “He went from a chubby freshman that didn’t have a wrestling stance into one of the top wrestlers at 220 in the nation. He’s a pretty cool story of the hard work and I’m excited to see him wrestle at the next level.”
The next year Garcia, with only a week to make sure the knee-joint was good, he went to work. Pin, Major, Pin got him to the finals against Ridgeview’s Cole Jackson. He followed his two pin’s and his major decision with a 3:32 pin of Jackson to successfully defend his 5A State Championship belt at 220-pounds.
Only one other Viking has repeated as State Champion since 2009, joining former teammate Ian Carlos (three-time State Champion between 2017-2019) during that span.
North Salem has had four repeat State Champions in it’s long history, the two other being Babak Mohammadi in when he did it in 1989-1990 and Marvin Seal in 1981-1982.
“Tony was really hung up on making an impact on North and helping the younger guys,” said Pickett. “He was amazing because he wanted so bad to win a team title for us. It was awesome to hear that, he loves the coaching staff so much. How hard we’ve worked. I think the next guys…basically everyone we’ve had now had a relationship with Antonio and Ian.
“They all understand to be the best, you got to stay late hours. You’ve got to work hard. There’s no shortcuts to titles and we got a lot of belief in our program right now. Your going to see a lot of good things coming from the Vikings for years to come.”
Now moving forward, Garcia will be going to the Bible Belt of College wrestling where he’ll be wrestling for the University of Dubuque in Dubuque, Iowa. The squad, which competes in NCAA Division-III, is in the tough American Rivers Conference, the league leading into the final rankings had five of the conference’s six teams ranked in the Top 25 with the Spartans ranked 25th in the country in D-3.
“This next chapter in my life is exciting and scary at the same time it’s the first time in my wrestling career that I’m not only switching coaches but states as well of course I still have one goal and that’s to be the best,” said Garcia. “ I hope my mark shows everyone not only at north Salem but all around Oregon that anyone that works hard puts in extra time can and will complete their goals and dreams.
“I will still continue to try to make everyone proud and I will never forget how much (Andy) Pickett and Ruben (Carlos) has put into me and I won’t let them down and I will always remember that I’m a North Salem Viking.”
With guys like Vance Lund, Logan Basham, Julio Ramirez and Octavio Maldonado returning, Garcia hopes he has left behind a positive message behind for his younger teammates who will be returning this upcoming season without him.
“My message for north would be if you want it bad enough you need to work hard and have to sacrifice time to get better. I hope that I was a great mentor to everyone on North’s wrestling team and school as well,” said Garcia. “I’m excited to see how everyone improves. I know this is the first time in years without a returning state champion but this team is not to be slept on their ready and they’re working and I can’t wait to watch and hear all about them in Iowa.”