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HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING: FUA IS PRIDE OF THE VALLEY CRESPI SENIOR BECOMES AREA'S FIRST STATE CHAMP.

Byline: Dave Shelburne Staff Writer

Sione Fua was standing where no San Fernando Valley wrestler had been before, on the championship mat at the CIF State Wrestling Championships.

Then things got even better. Fua, a Crespi High of Encino honor student, captured the heavyweight title, edging in overtime his friend, fellow Polynesian and Southern Section rival Romney Fuga of Edison of Huntington Beach, in the rubber match of their brief series.

Only 37 area wrestlers previously had earned medals at the state meet, which began in 1973. Only five - none of them from the San Fernando Valley - had reached the state final. Just one, Newbury Park 119-pounder Keith Harvey in 1985, had won a state championship.

Fua, who this fall will play football at Stanford, joined Harvey at the top in front of a crowd eight days ago at Bakersfield's Rabobank Arena that included 2005 San Fernando High graduate Raphael Reynolds, a four-time City Section champion whose fourth-place finish last year had been the best in San Fernando Valley history.

``Historically, I don't know how to put this in its proper perspective,'' said Crespi coach Mike Odman, who resurrected the Celts' wrestling program six years ago and never had produced a state qualifier before four-time Mission League champion Fua. ``It hasn't quite hit me yet.''

Fua, who went 38-5 this season, had lost to Fuga last year at the Southern Section's Coastal Division Championships. Fua evened the series at this year's Masters Meet, pulling out an overtime triumph in the third-place match.

The state-title match had special meaning for Fua and Fuga, whose friendship stemmed from their wrestling rivalry and grew as they took college football recruiting trips together - Fuga, also an offensive lineman, will attend Brigham Young - and both families celebrated afterward.

``It was a great night for Romney and Sione,'' said George Fua, Sione's father and a former Cal State Northridge tight end. ``Both kids were happy. Sione won, but Romney's a class kid, too, so if it went the other way, we still would have been happy for both. Romney's Samoan, we're Tongan - we're all happy.''

Fuga, who finished fourth at the state meet last year and went 42-3 this season, said wrestling a friend for the title was special.

``If you lost, you're happy that he won. And if you won, you're happy,'' he said. ``It's kind of an unusual situation, but I'm glad if I lost to someone, it was him, a guy I respect.''

Said Fua: ``There was no one else better for me to wrestle than Romney. It's a great feeling to be champion. To share it with Romney is a great thing.''

Fua and Odman expressed appreciation to Agoura High coaches Dan Gibbs and Dennis Ritterbush for helping prepare the Crespi senior for the Masters and state meets, specifically working with him on being more aggressive. It led to a 5-0 state run that featured two pins and two overtime decisions.

``His leg attacks improved tremendously,'' Odman said. ``He wrestled brilliantly. He was never really in harm's way, although we had a couple of close calls with Romney.''

George Fua thought one of his son's toughest battles might have been getting down to the 275-pound heavyweight maximum after a late start to the past two wrestling seasons because he was playing on Crespi's section-championship football teams.

``I really tip my hat to Sione, because he plays football at 300 pounds,'' his father said. ``That dedication and sacrifice shows me he really has a passion for wrestling.''

Odman notes the payoff for that passion will be timeless.

``He's forever a state champ,'' the coach said. ``From little Crespi, with 500 boys. This is a small miracle.''

Dave Shelburne, (818) 713-3609

dave.shelburne(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Crespi's Sione Fua, left, faces Romney Fuga of Edison in last weekend's state title bout.

Dave Shelburne/Daily News

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 12, 2006
Words:649
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