BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
For Mira Monte junior Angelica Llanes, the end of a long road could come Saturday night.
For most other girl wrestlers in California, the road is just beginning.
Llanes, runner-up in the past two girls wrestling state invitationals, is among the favorites at 111 pounds at this weekend's first officially sanctioned CIF Girls Wrestling State Championships in Visalia.
Llanes is ranked No. 2 again, behind Lauren Mason of Roseville-Woodcreek, the only girl to hand Llanes a loss this season.
Llanes is also a freestyle cadet national champion.
"She's good at all facets of wrestling," Mira Monte coach Brett Clark said. "She beat (Mason) in the (state) semifinals last year, and I think she's got a chance."
Also headed to the state meet, which begins Friday and culminates with Saturday's 6 p.m. finals in the Visalia Convention Center, are Courtney Bojorquez (143 pounds) and Jaci Brandolini (116) of Highland, Abigail Aceves (150) of Bakersfield and Lucie Mendoza (150) of Delano.
Llanes, Bojorquez and Mendoza all won Central Section titles this past weekend at the section championships in Hanford.
In the past, girls wrestlers participated on the boys team, often relegated to junior varsity or practice-team duty. But the CIF began its invitational tournament in 2011 and now has made the event official.
"It's kind of come full circle," said Highland coach Paul Gonzales, whose five girls practice with his boys team. "They're really excited to come in and do this.
"I've always had a girl wrestler or two on my team; other coaches frown on it a little bit, but I've always had one. Now it seems like it's becoming a bigger scene. In L.A., they have full rosters of girls (team). And I was kind of like, 'Let's push for this.'"
Because there aren't full teams locally, most girls wrestlers still participate with the boys teams. Llanes, for instance, medaled at two varsity tournaments for Mira Monte, and Bojorquez placed second in the Southeast Yosemite League junior varsity boys tournament at 145 pounds.
Alex Gomez, a multiple-time girls national champion who wrestled for Frontier several years ago, didn't have a chance to wrestle in a state tournament. But Clark said girls wrestling is just getting started.
"It's going to keep growing," said Clark, who started the season with 15 girls and had six finish, thanks to injuries and attrition. "It's a good thing that these girls have a chance to win section and state titles now. We had some girls quit, but Porterville finished with 10 girls, and they won the Valley. Orange Cove had 11. It's getting bigger. Eventually we're going to have girls duals and things like that."
All five local state qualifiers have a chance at the medal stand, Gonzales said, but it's Llanes who is most likely to bring home a title.
She placed second at 108 pounds as a freshman in 2012 in Lemoore, then was runner-up at 103 last year. Now she could become the first local state girls champion in an area known for its wrestling.
"It would be awesome," Clark said. "To be the first of anything, they can never take that away from you."