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Aviano's Anthony Cervantes defeated Vilseck's Christian Brashears at 145 pounds to win the southern sectional and stay unbeaten on the season.

Aviano's Anthony Cervantes defeated Vilseck's Christian Brashears at 145 pounds to win the southern sectional and stay unbeaten on the season. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Aviano's Anthony Cervantes defeated Vilseck's Christian Brashears at 145 pounds to win the southern sectional and stay unbeaten on the season.

Aviano's Anthony Cervantes defeated Vilseck's Christian Brashears at 145 pounds to win the southern sectional and stay unbeaten on the season. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Vilseck's Anthony Cruz pins Sigonella's Noah Bachicha at 120 pounds to win the weight class Saturday at the southern sectional.

Vilseck's Anthony Cruz pins Sigonella's Noah Bachicha at 120 pounds to win the weight class Saturday at the southern sectional. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Hohenfels' Jarod Liwanag pins Vilseck's Jordan Leghty in a 170-pound match Saturday at the southern sectionals.

Hohenfels' Jarod Liwanag pins Vilseck's Jordan Leghty in a 170-pound match Saturday at the southern sectionals. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Vilseck's Roman Rosas and Aviano's Ayden Capps square off at 182 pounds at the southern sectionals Saturday. Both advanced to next week's European championships.

Vilseck's Roman Rosas and Aviano's Ayden Capps square off at 182 pounds at the southern sectionals Saturday. Both advanced to next week's European championships. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Munich's Blaise Ronnau pins Vilseck's Matthew Johnston to win the 160-pound weight class Saturday at the southern sectional.

Munich's Blaise Ronnau pins Vilseck's Matthew Johnston to win the 160-pound weight class Saturday at the southern sectional. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Who is that masked man? Aviano's Jacob Gamboa continued an unbeaten season by defeating Vicenza's Anthony Verduga at 138 pounds at the southern seectional on Saturday.

Who is that masked man? Aviano's Jacob Gamboa continued an unbeaten season by defeating Vicenza's Anthony Verduga at 138 pounds at the southern seectional on Saturday. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Sigonella's Munro Manning has the upper hand on Vicenza's Nicholas Verduga in a 113-pound match Saturday at the southern sectional. Manning won the match and took first in the sectional.

Sigonella's Munro Manning has the upper hand on Vicenza's Nicholas Verduga in a 113-pound match Saturday at the southern sectional. Manning won the match and took first in the sectional. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Vilseck's Brandon Stach has Aviano's Julius Gaduang in trouble in their 126-pound match Saturday at the southern sectional. Stach was up 13-4 in the third period when Gaduang earned a pin. The first-year Saints wrestler eventually finished second.

Vilseck's Brandon Stach has Aviano's Julius Gaduang in trouble in their 126-pound match Saturday at the southern sectional. Stach was up 13-4 in the third period when Gaduang earned a pin. The first-year Saints wrestler eventually finished second. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Munich's Drake Ronnau puts Vicenza's Sam Strong on his back at 170 pounds in an early-round match at the southern sectional Saturday at Aviano Air Base. Ronnau stayed unbeaten and took first in the class.

Munich's Drake Ronnau puts Vicenza's Sam Strong on his back at 170 pounds in an early-round match at the southern sectional Saturday at Aviano Air Base. Ronnau stayed unbeaten and took first in the class. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Naples' Jackson Blivin has control of Aviano's Ethan Laws at 152 pounds in the southern sectional Saturday at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Blivin eventually took first and Laws second.

Naples' Jackson Blivin has control of Aviano's Ethan Laws at 152 pounds in the southern sectional Saturday at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Blivin eventually took first and Laws second. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

Vicenza's Ethan Johnston pins Aviano's Ayden Capps to take first at 182 pounds in the southern sectional on Saturday.

Vicenza's Ethan Johnston pins Aviano's Ayden Capps to take first at 182 pounds in the southern sectional on Saturday. (Kent Harris/Stars and Stripes)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – There weren’t a lot of big surprises Saturday as wrestlers from seven schools gathered at the southern sectional to try to earn spots in the European championships.

That’s largely because trips south of the Alps by Vilseck, Munich International and Hohenfels during the regular season meant that just about every wrestler had already faced their Saturday opponents at least once.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t any drama. And a few surprises.

“You don’t expect first-year wrestlers who have never wrestled before to get through this,” Aviano coach Robin Clement said before the meet started.

So Julius Gaduang’s stunning victory in the semifinals at 126 pounds surprised his coach. Especially when he trailed Vilseck’s Brandon Stachl 13-4 in the third period before taking him to his back and earning a pin – and an automatic spot in the championships next weekend in Wiesbaden.

Gaduang, cut from the school’s basketball team before the season started, was one of 10 Saints to qualify. That means Aviano is almost guaranteed to defend its Division II title.

Leading the charge were Ethan Herrera (106 pounds), Liam Knowles (126), Jacob Gamboa (132) and Anthony Cervantes (138). Gamboa and Cervantes haven’t lost this season and didn’t seem to be in danger at any point Saturday. Five Saints took second.

Aviano and Vilseck both qualified 10 wrestlers, though the Falcons may have some more after wild cards are determined.

That’s just about what coach Jim Hall predicted before the meet. The Falcons will have a tough time matching points with Ramstein and Stuttgart in D-I, though weight-class champions Adrian Cruz (120) and Juan Oestreich (220) will do their best.

The smallest contingent – two brothers from Munich – looked dominant. Blaise Ronnau improved to 22-0 with three pins at 160 pounds. Older brother Drake is now 20-0 after two pins and a 14-8 victory over Aviano’s Mitchel Schaul – his tightest margin of victory this season.

The brothers will try to make the finals trip a successful conclusion to their European odyssey. The family is moving back to the States this year, sparing Europe from facing several other younger siblings.

Sigonella’s Munro Manning (113), Ben Latimer (126) and Joe Perroni (275) all won titles for the D-III school. Naples’ Jackson Blivin improved to 29-1 with a triumph at 152 pounds and teammate Augusto de Sousa Matos won at 195. Vicenza's Ethan Johnston won at 182 to lead a seven-qualifier contingent.

Harris.kent@stripes.com

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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