KAUKAUNA – When members of the Desert Vista High School wrestling team walked off the plane at Appleton International Airport, they shared a sense of “bring on the Wisconsin cold” bravado.
It proved to be temporary.
“We walk out and we were like, ‘Aw, this isn’t that bad,’ ” said Desert Vista senior Chad Porter. “Then a couple minutes later, we were all very cold and everyone couldn’t wait to get inside. It’s way colder than I imagined.”
The Arizona team made the longest trip of any of the 31 teams in the 18th annual Cheesehead Invitational wrestling tournament and may have experienced the biggest climatic shift, traveling from sunny Phoenix to frigid Wisconsin on one of the coldest weekends of the winter.
Going from the microwave to the refrigerator proved to be a jolt.
“It was 62 when I called home, so you’re talking about 60-degree shift in the temperatures,” said Desert Vista coach David “Gonzo” Gonzalez with a laugh. “I grew up in Chicago, but it’s been a long time since I dealt with these temperatures. It’s really enjoyable coming here, but it’s going to be enjoyable getting back to the nice warm weather, too.”
With Flagstaff being just a two-hour drive from Phoenix, most members of the Thunder have seen snow. But none have experienced brutal cold like the arctic blast that hit Wisconsin, pushing temperatures below zero Friday night.
“Coldest place I’ve ever been — nowhere else is even close,” said Jordan Martinez, another Desert Vista senior. “We had to go buy jackets before the trip. I wish I would have bought that mask that covers your face. A lot of us have been to Flagstaff, but it’s a lot colder here. It’s a lot different from Arizona.”
Don’t look for Martinez or Porter to become future homeowners in Wisconsin.
“I wouldn’t want to live here — just too cold,” said Porter. “It’s the coldest time of the year in Arizona. It probably gets in the low 50s. But we come here and that’s nothing compared to this. I’ve wrestled in Fargo before, but that was in the summer.”
The Thunder didn’t travel to Kaukauna to work on their suntans. Desert Vista, which finished third in its class at the 2016 Arizona state wrestling team tournament, made its first Cheesehead appearance in an effort to sharpen its mat skills.
“I’m a wrestling guy and I know where the competition goes,” said Gonzalez. “We want to be able to wrestle with these guys and not just Arizona kids. We have a young team and we want to see if our guys are willing to do what it takes to be good, not just Arizona good.”
Porter is a defending Arizona state champion at 195, while Martinez took third at 120 in the 2016 state tournament.
“I know a lot of kids in this tournament,” said Porter. “It’s one of the tougher tournaments in the country.”
Desert Vista isn’t the first Arizona team to compete in the Cheesehead. Mountain View High School, located in nearby Mesa, competed at the Cheesehead a few years ago and forged a strong fourth-place finish.
“They told us good things about this tournament and I know (tournament director) Scott Kluever,” said Gonzalez. “So we wanted to see what Midwest wrestling is all about. If you want to be good at wrestling, you’ve got to come back through the Midwest in places like Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.”
Like most visiting teams in the Cheesehead, Desert Vista is staying at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel and Gonzalez is looking forward to a reunion there with an old friend. Gonzalez is a math teacher at Desert Vista and one of his former students is New York Giants starting strong side linebacker Devon Kennard, who will also be staying at the Paper Valley prior to the Giants’ playoff game Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“We’re not flying out until Sunday and, hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see him,” said Gonzalez. “He played college ball at USC and whenever he came back to town, he’d always come see me. He was in my honors geometry class. We have a good relationship.”
But it wasn’t strong enough to get Kennard on the mat.
“In high school, I always tried to get him to wrestle,” said Gonzalez. “I started naming off guys like Ray Rice, Roddy White, Stephen Neal that have wrestling backgrounds. He told me that he’d go out for wrestling if he got cut from basketball. But no coach would ever cut him from any team because he was that much of an athlete. We never got him out for wrestling.”
Martinez is hoping to get back to the hotel tonight and score a signature from another prominent Giant.
“I’m hoping to get a couple things signed by Odell (Beckham Jr.),” said Martinez. “That would be great.”
Tim Froberg: 920-993-7183 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @twfroberg
Kasson-Mantorville (Minn.) led the team standings Friday with 163 points after the first day of the Cheesehead Invitational. Mt. Carmel (Ill.) was second with 157. Kaukauna was in ninth place with 120 points. Wrestling resumes at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. The finals are scheduled for 5 p.m.