Coaches assess threats as HS wrestling begins

Coaches assess threats as HS wrestling begins

News

Coaches assess threats as HS wrestling begins

By

The Arizona temperatures are cooling down, and once again that means that it’s time for the high-school wrestling season to start heating up.

Last year’s returning champions are ready to defend their crowns, and everyone else will be eager to dethrone the champs and be the last ones standing at the end of the year.

One wrestler who knows the feeling of victory well is Dalton Brady. The Chandler senior will look to become Arizona’s 29th four-time state champion and fourth in the last three years.

“I think a lot of coaches would describe him as a once-in-a-career kind of athlete,” Chandler coach Vidal Mejia said. “You don’t get to coach too many kids like him.”

Brady was an integral part of Chandler’s Division I state-title team last season, but look for a new champion to emerge this year. Five teams finished within 12 points of Chandler in 2011-12, and the top of the leaderboard will likely be tightly packed once again.

In an azcentral sports preseason survey sent out to coaches across the state, several in Division I tabbed Yuma Cibola as their team to beat. Cibola returns a state placer in nearly every weight class, and one coach even went so far as to say, “They will kill us all.”

Tucson Sunnyside, with second-year coach Anthony Leon settling in and motivated to return Sunnyside to the top after its streak of 14 consecutive state titles was snapped last year, will surely be a threat. And a handful of teams, including Phoenix Desert Vista, Tempe Corona del Sol, Phoenix Horizon and Mesa Mountain View should all be strong come state-tournament time.

The picture is a little clearer in Division II, where Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge enters the season as the favorite to win its third straight state championship. Coach Tim Berrier returns a strong trio of seniors in defending champs Troy Taylor and Matt Filbert and runner-up Tate Sandifer, who also won the 125-pound title two years ago.

Yuma Gila Ridge and Marana Mountain View, last year’s team runner-up and fifth-place finishers, respectively, have the best shot at derailing Ironwood Ridge’s three-peat chances.

Division III also has a team going for three straight titles in Phoenix Thunderbird, but its path to the championship likely won’t be as easy.

This is perhaps the most wide-open division of the four, as only two individual champions from last year return and a slew of teams have the potential to end the season on top.

Coaches were just as undecided as more than a dozen teams were named as contenders in the preseason survey, although the likeliest bets look to be Cottonwood Mingus, Gilbert Campo Verde and Lakeside Blue Ridge.

But just like last season when Thunderbird’s chances to repeat were doubted, Steve Linsacum’s team can’t be counted out.

In contrast, Division IV could be the easiest division to forecast. St. Johns returns two of its five state champions from 2011 to 2012, seniors Brock Crosby and Jared Anderson, and is in great position to defend last year’s team title.

Camp Verde and Morenci will be in the hunt and at the very least will try to make sure St. Johns doesn’t run away with the title as it did a season ago, when it won by 67 points.

Regardless, St. Johns joins Chandler, Ironwood Ridge and Thunderbird as the targets of their respective divisions, something each team’s coach is certainly well aware of.

“We can’t take anybody for granted,” St. Johns coach Brandon Crosby said. “We’ve got an ‘X’ on our backs, and we’ve got to embrace the challenge and go to work.”

Latest

More USA TODAY High School Sports