By Brian Stanley
Junior Richie Sandoval has been on a hot streak for the Santa Ynez Pirates and is now one step closer to accomplishing his goal: claiming a CIF state wrestling championship.
Richie qualified for the CIF State Boys Championships with a second-place finish in the 120-pound weight class at the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet on Feb. 16, losing in a 12-0 major decision to St. John Bosco’s Antonio Lorenzo in the finals.
Competing in the 120-pound weight class for the Pirates this season, Richie is ranked seventh among California high school wrestlers in the division by CalGrappler.com and TheCaliforniaWrestler.com.
“He’s one of the lighter guys,” said Santa Ynez wrestling head coach and Richie’s father, Raul-Omar Sandoval. “He’s moved up a division every year. He started at 106 his freshman year; his sophomore year he wrestled 113, and this year he’s wrestled 120s.”
Competing during the winter break at the Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno, Richie walked away with gold in his weight class in the 64-wrestler bracket.
“Richie was feeling good going into it. He’s had a good season,” said Chantelle Castellanos, Santa Ynez assistant wrestling coach and Richie’s mother.
“He beat two All-Americans that day. He beat a national champion that weekend,” Sandoval said. “It was a really good tournament for him.”
Fast forward to the Channel League wrestling finals on Feb. 2, where Richie claimed the 120-pound division championship, going the distance against Dos Pueblos’ Kade Uyesaka to get a 9-2 decision.
“It makes me super proud to see the accomplishments for himself, to see his hard work pay off for him,” Coach Sandoval said about Richie’s performance on the mat this season. “He’s got bigger goals, and I don’t want him to stop working.”
Richie worked through an injury as he closed out last season, wrestling with a separated shoulder through the Los Padres League finals all the way to the CIF state finals. With his shoulder now healthy, Richie is prepared to build off last years’ championship tournament experience to make a run at the CIF state crown.
“Last season when I made it to state, I didn’t do so good,” Richie said. “I was in my head after I lost my first match. I lost focus. This season I’m going to stay on track.”
With his senior wrestling season still to come, Richie has already started drawing attention from college programs.
“Brown University looked me up and asked for my grades and how I’m doing academically,” Richie said. “Obviously that’s an Ivy League school, and going there would be pretty cool.”
Richie says that if he had the chance to pick from schools his current choice would be between the nationally ranked Minnesota State Mavericks or the recently reinstated Fresno State Bulldogs.
Having moved up in weight classes every season, Richie will have to climb one more weight class by the end of his senior year to compete at the college level.
“He’s been trying to grow himself into that 126-pound figure because that’s what the lightest weight at college is,” Coach Sandoval said.
When he’s not working out with the Pirates’ wrestling team, Richie can be found training at Youth Empowered in Solvang, a nonprofit fitness center operated by Richie’s parents and grandmother. He also spends time volunteering as a wrestling coach and officiating matches for young age groups.
Richie has also spent time during his summer breaks traveling with the California USA Wrestling Future Olympian Program to tournaments throughout the nation.
“It is in his path if he wants to be at the highest level collegiately, if he wants to go to the Olympics with it, the opportunities are all there for him,” Castellanos said.
The CIF State Wrestling Championships will be held in Bakersfield on Feb. 21-23.