Move to intensify Cibola, Gila Ridge wrestling rivalry
Especially in the last two years, the Cibola and Gila Ridge wrestling teams have gone toe-to-toe in the regular season.
But after every duel the two schools battle, they both knew they were after different long-term goals.
Cibola had its sights on the Division I state championship. Gila Ridge wanted the Division II title.
But with the new realignment in the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the Raiders' strong wrestling team is moving down to join the Hawks at Division II.
“We'll always be rooting for each other when we're not wrestling each other, but now at the end of the year, we can't say you go get your state title, we're going to get ours,” Cibola coach Mike Jankowski said. “Now we're going to (be) battling for the same state title. It's definitely going to be a little more heated rivalry.”
“Obviously when the stakes are higher, the rivalry will be more intense. I think that's natural,” Gila Ridge coach David King said.
This season Cibola has beat Gila Ridge three times, including a controversial win earlier this month where both teams left the gym under the impression they had won. The win was eventually given to the Raiders.
Last season, the Raiders (120.5) finished 1 1/2 points behind Chandler (122) at the AIA Division I Wrestling Championships. The Hawks also finished in second place, behind Ironwood Ridge 204.5 to 155, at the AIA Division II Wrestling Championships. According to Jankowski, while he says there's still a lot of talent at Division II, some of the Raider wrestlers were disappointed to hear about the drop down.
“We were kind of disappointed when we first heard it,” Jankowski said. “Last year we were 1 1/2 points away from a Division I title. And not saying that Division II is weak, because Ironwood won Flowing Wells and they were the Division II champs last year. Some of the kids are upset by the move because they want to be the absolute best in the state and some are trying to get looked at by colleges. But we had to tell them we're going to go to the same tournaments. We're going to go see the same competition. The only thing is now at the end of the year, (the) last tournaments, that's the only thing that's changing for us.
“We're just going to keep doing what we do. Whatever division we're in, we're going to keep shooting for the same thing.”
King is worried that bringing the three Division I schools down to Division II could have some adverse effects on both the teams and the pomp and circumstance of the city championship meet.
“Our sectionals will be the same as our city championships, so that's going to be deluded,” he said. “You can overexpose wrestlers, you can overexpose coaches – if you see the same people this many times, you can have the opposite effect.”
But more than anything, King said that while the move may be beneficial for sports like basketball, baseball and football, the uniqueness of wrestling may have allowed things to stay as they were.
“It's a shame that there's been such a district-wide decision for us to change divisions. I think it makes sense for football, but not something that makes sense at wrestling,” King said. “But our school doesn't pay for us to travel everywhere. So it doesn't pay more for us to be Division I or Division II – our Booster Clubs pay for us to make that travel. So for the district to say that it's a district policy to save money, there's no foundation in that.
“I support what our administration is trying to do, I know that money is tight, but I don't think it will help (wrestling).”
But Jankowski's Raiders aren't the only team that has enjoyed success at Division I. Just this season the Cibola football, Kofa volleyball, San Luis boys soccer, Kofa boys and girls soccer teams each made the state playoffs.
“We have a lot of kids who get to go to college, so for us, we want to play the top competition, but it is what it is. We have to play who we have to play,” Kofa boys soccer coach Jamie Nicewander said. “You have to look at all the sports. You have to look across the board and say what's best for the school. That's what being a team is about.”