It's hard to go into a tournament as the favorite and still make a statement.
But with a 100-plus-point victory in the Division II Section I Wrestling Championships, the Gila Ridge wrestling team showed its full potential.
“Walking in, people thought we were definitely the team to beat,” Gila Ridge coach David King said. “I think we had some kids step up last week that haven't been real horses for us in the past. Some of our mid and upper weights stepped up for us and that was great. I planned to win, but to win by that margin was really excellent.”
The Hawks are hoping to carry the momentum over into the state tournament, which begins Thursday at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. The championship rounds are Friday.
All eight area schools qualified at least one wrestler. Yuma Catholic will have 11 wrestlers in the Division IV tournament, which begins Friday and has its championship round Saturday. Antelope has two and San Pasqual one in that tournament, while Yuma High has seven wrestlers in the D-II bracket.
San Luis has four wrestlers and Kofa one in the D-I side, which also has 12 Cibola wrestlers.
King said after taking second last year, the Hawks are aiming for the team title. King said he expects both No. 1 seeds Nathan Mendivil (46-1 at 106) and Austin Gerber (43-5 at 120) to compete for a title, along with Isaac Saenz (No. 2, 50-6 at 145), Curtis Cox (No. 4, 42-9 at 126) and Kainoa Renaud (No. 3, 37-9 at 220).
But he said surprise guys like Jordan Sheldahl at 160 and Liam Beaumont at 182 will have a big say in whether the Hawks can win a state title.
“Every little bit is going to count,” King said. “Obviously the kids that are in the finals score big points and those are the ones people think win tournaments, but it's those third-place and fifth-place wrestlers that really cement a state title. It will be good to have those boys that are getting us points that haven't necessarily been tournament winners in the past.”
“The kids just have to do what they've been doing all season,” he said. “If we get someone on their back, we've got to keep them there, get those bonus points. We've got kids that are excellent wrestlers on the mat, so I think we'll be all right if kids just wrestle up to their potential. It's easier said than done, of course, but I don't need kids to do something they've done before this weekend. We've been a team that wins tournaments all year. This is just another tournament.”
The Criminals have a couple of wrestlers that coach Jeff Welsing said should be in the mix come medal time, specifically Kade Kottenbrook (38-9) and Kodi Doerr (33-8 at 106).
“Kade didn't do as well at the sectional tournament as we hoped,” Welsing said. “He didn't get seeded, but the draw that he has, it's a tough first match but you have to beat all the kids anyway. But I expect them both to be right there in the place round.”
Welsing added that Andreus Gomez (31-14 at 220) and Leo Salcedo (36-10 at 113) have chances to medal as well.
“It just depends on how Andreus and Leo wrestle,” Welsing said. “If they come prepared and ready to go, I think they'll do well.”
Yuma Catholic coach Derek Beck said the Shamrocks are looking for a top 5 finish after taking sixth as a team last year.
“Everybody is going to have to step up,” Beck said. “We have some tough brackets. People are going to have to win matches that are close and maybe that they shouldn't win according to record or head-to-head.”
Beck said he expects a lot out of senior Alex Varela, after he won the Division IV Section I tournament, as Yuma Catholic's highest seed at No. 2 in heavyweight with a 41-6 mark this year.
But he added that all of his seniors — Grady Eldridge (No. 4, 23-8 at 170), Brandon Moreno (30-15 at 160 and facing the No. 1 seed in the first round), Zach Lopez (17-8 at 120) and Andy Determan (30-13 at 152) — have shots at medals.
“They do have tough brackets and tough competition coming up,” Beck said. “But I'd really like to see my seniors go out strong and have a couple juniors I expect a lot out of: Clay Sierra (44-9 at 145) and Ernesto Sandigo (36-15 at 138).”
San Luis has a legitimate medal shot with Division I Section I champ Carlos Urquijo (26-2 at 220), who earned the No. 3 seed.