Last year, Liberty High's David Klingsheim and Concord's Nick Pica used the North Coast Section individual tournament as a steppingstone to achieve glory at the state level.

What star wrestlers will fill their shoes this year?

The region's best wrestlers converge at Newark Memorial today and Saturday to decide 14 section champions and 56 qualifiers for the state tournament in Bakersfield.

The NCS tournament features a deep talent pool but few state-ranked athletes. De La Salle heads the field as the defending team champions. The Spartans have a wrestler in each weight class, enhancing their chances for a repeat team victory.

The Spartans also have plenty of chances for individual titles, headlined by brothers Joe and Vinny Moita and Luke Sheridan. Vinny Moita is the only wrestler at this year's tournament to have placed at state last year, and that has him hungry to get back to Bakersfield.

"That's what I want," Moita said earlier in the season. "Everything else is just practice until then."

Sheridan is ranked No. 5 in the state at 171 pounds by thecaliforniawrestler.com, but only two others are state-ranked coming into this weekend's tournament. Liberty's Jesse Baldazo is No. 8 at 140 pounds, and College Park's Orry Elor is No. 2 at 285 pounds.

Seven wrestlers are listed as honorable mention selections, headlined perhaps by the only undefeated wrestler coming into this year's NCS tournament, Newark Memorial's Victor Pereira. Touted as a freshman phenom last season, Pereira finished fifth at the section meet, narrowly missing out on a trip to the state tournament.

"I lost in a close match in the semis, and I just broke down. I wasn't mentally prepared," Pereira said after winning the Mission San Jose tournament title earlier this month. "I think I'm more mentally prepared, and I've been getting better partners and more practice time, so I can deal with getting taken down, deal with adversity and still wrestle."

James Logan returns a solid group this year after winning the Mission Valley Athletic League. Danny Mai leads the Colts after winning the 125-pound title last year, this time wrestling at 130 pounds. Six Colts earned seeds in this year's tournament.

Traditional powers Liberty, Granada and College Park could make noise near the top of the team standings, but teams such as Antioch and Northgate have a chance to break through. Antioch won the team title at the Bay Valley Athletic League tournament, and Northgate won the team title at the Diablo Valley Athletic League tournament.

NCS Wrestling championships
WHERE: Newark Memorial High
WHEN: Wrestling starts today at 9 a.m., concluding with the quarterfinal round that should start around 7 p.m. Action continues Saturday, with the semifinals scheduled for 10 a.m. and the finals set for 6 p.m.
WHAT: The top four wrestlers in each of 14 weight classes will qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships in Bakersfield on March 5-6.