By KEVIN SAULS
Winning his second straight championship in the Robert Hatler Memorial Tournament will stand as a career highlight for Sonora High School wrestler Joel DePaoli.
"Because it's my senior year, considering it's our home tournament, and I was wrestling in front of my friends and family, it meant a lot to me," DePaoli said.
Saturday at Bud Castle Gym, DePaoli added the 152-pound title to the 140-pound Hatler crown he won as a junior.
"At the beginning of the day, I was really nervous and feeling a lot of pressure," The Union Democrat's Athlete of the Week said. "But going into my final match, I wasn't nervous at all because I was so focused."
He capped his Hatler career with a title-bout pin against Ben Corsaro from Tokay of Lodi.
Now, DePaoli will continue pursuit of a goal that so far has eluded him a berth in the State Tournament.
To that end, he said, "I know all the basic moves and what works for me. Now I'm going to work myself into the best possible shape and pick up the intensity level in practice."
Sonora coach Jon Abernathy said DePaoli is a more complete wrestler than ever before, a fact that will serve him well as the season progresses through the pressure cooker of the Valley Oak League, South Delta Sub-Section and Sac-Joaquin Section tournaments all preludes to state.
"He's chaining his moves together pretty well, putting consistent pressure on his opponents and getting more offensive takedowns than in the past," Abernathy said. "He's always had kind of a counterpunching style, but now he's setting up his own offense a lot better."
Abernathy rates DePaoli as among the best he has coached in his 14 years at the helm of the Wildcats.
"I can't recall," Abernathy said, "too many who won the Hatler twice."
DePAOLI AT A GLANCE
Grade-point average: 4.18.
Favorite wrestler: Cael Sanderson, formerly of Iowa State. "Going undefeated all four years and winning four national championships is beyond great."
Best move: "A single-sweep takedown. I usually start it with a head-tap or some kind of shrug, then I sweep to his left leg with my right arm."
Improvement needed: "In the referee's position (the down position at the start of the second or third round). I need to get better at getting out. When I get to those big tournaments at the end of the year, I don't want to get caught on the bottom."
Future plans: "I'd like to continue wrestling in college. I'll probably go to UC Davis as a walk-on."