Mastery on the Mat

Pali High Wrestling Team Dominates Inaugural Forest Whitaker Invitational with Victories over Carson and Van Nuys

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

It may have been flat on the mat five months ago, but the Palisades High wrestling program is bouncing back under new head coach Mike Lawlor, as it showed with a pair of impressive victories last Thursday at the inaugural Forest Whitaker Invitational in Van Nuys.

“It’s a good start—some kids went 2-0, some got their first wins, I saw good cradle counters, good stand-up escapes and everyone contributed,” said Lawlor, who was hired in July to bring stability to a program in turmoil after the dismissal of Steve Cifonelli in the spring of 2017 and the firing of Aldo Juliano in March. “Today showed how important pins are, especially when you have to forfeit a few weights. When you get a guy on his back you’ve got to keep him there and finish it, but other than that I’m pretty pleased.”

Palisades dug out of an early 18-6 hole to beat Carson 45-36 and leading the comeback was junior Parsa Pourmoula, who got a takedown in overtime to defeat the Colts’ Darien Banuelos at 132 pounds.

Palisades sophomore Eric Smith-Williams (top) on his way to pinning Van Nuys’ Arman Badikyan in the second period of their match at 145 pounds during last Thursday’s tri-meet.

“I wrestled at 106 as a freshman and I got sixth in City at 120 last year, so this year I’m going for first at 126 or 132,” said Pourmoula, who moved to the USA from Iran in seventh grade and lives in Brentwood. “I’ve improved a lot through cardio, lifting weights and practicing my technique. I’m calmer and more confident in my shooting. We lost a lot of seniors so I want to be a role model for the younger guys and help them as much as I can.”

Pourmoula pinned Van Nuys’ Andre Darancens in the first period to give his team a commanding 21-0 lead in the second match and Palisades went on to outscore the host Wolves, 45-24.

Palisades’ only senior, Luke Hansen,  needed only 19 seconds to pin Carson’s Joel Martinez and added a first-round fall against Van Nuys.

Eric Smith-Williams stormed to early leads in both of his matches before ending them with second-period pins. Junior Erinn Jackson got a fall against Carson and won his second match by forfeit at 152 and Braeden Harris went 2-0 at 170.  

Richard Rosen (top) decisions Lance Matt Trinidad of Van Nuys.

“I met [former Pali High wrestler Erik Miranda] at a football game my freshman year and he encouraged me to try out,” said Smith-Williams, who lives in South Central LA and placed third at regionals and seventh in the 126-pound division at City finals last winter. “It was the seniors who motivated me so when they graduated I was questioning whether to come back. I have a better stance and I’m able to concentrate and conserve energy.

Smith-Williams went 3-1 with three pins to take second place at 145 at the Turkey Duals on Nov. 17 (losing to a state qualifier) and   was runner-up the next week at the King of the City Tournament.

Three freshman were in last Thursday’s starting lineups: Benjamin Frizzell and Richard Rosen, who alternated at 106 and 113, and Ari Blloshmi, who won twice at 120. Along with fellow ninth-graders John Berrellez and Charlie Addis, they learned the sport under coach Adam Hunter at Paul Revere Middle School.

Luke Hansen has his arm raised after pinning Carson’s Joel Martinez.

“It’s a lot more difficult here, the coach pushes us much harder,” Frizzell said. “At Revere we practiced twice a week. This is everyday for two and a half hours and we work on different moves.”

Rosen won the 106-pound division at the Turkey Duals and took fourth at 113 at King of the City. Blloshmi was second at 120 at the Turkey Duals and first place at King of the City.

“At Revere I was much more defensive,” said Blloshmi, who resides in West LA said. “Being at Pali has made me more offensive and that has definitely helped.”

Justin Martinez clinched the win against Carson with a pin at 220. Rounding out the roster were Miles Demko (126), Shahin Maghoui (152), Kenneth Mackey (182), Cesar Franco (195), Jonathan Zecena (220) and Balbino Castro (285).