BAKERSFIELD -- Eli Bagaoisan said it comes down to mental toughness and preparation at the state tournament.
Experience doesn't hurt, either.
The James Logan High wrestling coach will bring four returning state qualifiers to the California Interscholastic Federation wrestling championships at Rabobank Arena, which begin at 9 a.m. on Friday and conclude with the championship round at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday.
While Isaiah Locsin of Live Oak-Morgan Hill is one of the favorites in the 120-pound division after winning the 113 title last year, a handful of East Bay competitors could be in the mix to earn a medal by cracking the top eight.
Logan's hearty quartet boasts three champions from Saturday's North Coast Section tournament in Artemio Flores (126 pounds), Jacob Macalolooy (138) and Clayton Hartwell (195), along with third-place finisher Jacob Donato (120). Flores is ranked fourth in the state by The California Wrestler. Macalolooy is ranked 14th, Hartwell ninth, and Donato 19th.
"You'll see a lot of close matches," Bagaoisan said. "It's going to come down to who is following the game plan that their coaches are giving them and who's really mentally ready. When you go to the state meet, everybody there is tremendous, technically sound and in great shape."
After a banner effort by NCS competitors last year, this year's cast at state appears deep but without as many stars.
De La Salle, coming off a fifth consecutive NCS team title, will be hard-pressed to earn a third consecutive fourth-place finish. The Spartans had four state placers last year in seniors Joey Moita (third), Alex Abono (second) and William Walker (fifth), along with then-sophomore Jon Jay Chavez (seventh), who transferred to a high school in Idaho.
The Spartans are bringing six to Bakersfield, topped by Nathan Cervantes (120 pounds), Peyton Russum (145), Aaron Pease (170) and Devon Aiello (182).
"The group's a little younger and less experienced," De La Salle coach Mark Halvorson said. "Last year we had three state placers returning going down there, so we have two wrestlers that have wrestled at the state meet, but we don't have any returning medalists."
Liberty's top medal threat is Austin Solari (132 pounds), who is ranked seventh in the state.
Livermore senior Tyler Rardon (152), who earned a second consecutive NCS title, had a 1-2 record at state last year, but his losses came by a combined four points.
"I feel good," said Rardon, who is ranked ninth in the state. "I've been working hard and getting ready to make a statement."
Logan's Flores had a respectable 3-2 record at 126 pounds in 2012 in Bakersfield, including a 6-4 loss to eventual champion Anthony Valencia of St. John Bosco-Bellflower. Macalolooy was 2-2 last year. Hartwell, suffering from an elbow injury at the time, and Donato both did not win a match, but Donato's two close losses came against eventual placers.
Bagaoisan agreed that this is the strongest group he's taken to state.
"Artemio probably wrestled the best match of his life in the NCS finals," he said of Flores' 9-2 win over Windsor's Logan Fore. "He was very dominant, and he knew what he wanted to do, and that's good going into this weekend. Macalolooy, the same thing. He's a smart student, but he's also a really smart wrestler. He understands positioning. He doesn't get into a lot of weird situations, and so he can really control his matches. Clayton, the same thing."
Last year's local group left a tough act to follow. College Park graduate Brian Sergi won the state title at 138, among 10 East Bay placers overall.
"Overall, I don't think it's as strong as last year, but again, it's the state meet and anything can happen," Bagaoisan said of the local cast.
WHERE: Rabobank Arena, Bakersfield
SCHEDULE: Friday -- First four championship and consolation rounds, 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Saturday -- Semifinals, 9:30-11:30 a.m.; Third-, fifth- and seventh-place matches, 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Championship finals, 7:15 p.m.