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Gandara has big first day for Raiders, who are in fifth
PRESCOTT VALLEY — There were at least two times Thursday it seemed Andy Gandara would fall short of the 120-pound title in the Division I State Wrestling Championships at Tim's Toyota Center.
Once was when he was screaming in agony on the mat in his quarterfinal match. The other was when he was losing in the final seconds of the his semifinal.
He won them both.
Coach Mike Jankowski said it was one of the few bright spots for Cibola, which entered with title hopes but finished the first day in fifth, 33 points behind first-place Chandler. Chandler won the tournament by 1.5 points over Cibola last year.
Two Raiders, Gandara and Luis Nunez at 132, are a win away from a gold medal. Two wrestlers lost semifinals, defending state champion Pierre Gaud and Vicente Guerrero, both of whom are guaranteed medals. And although seven Raiders made the consolation quarters, only Josh Olsen and Sergio Contreras are still in medal contention, needing one more win to secure at least sixth.
But whatever happens today, Gandara was a bright spot Thursday.
“I don't even have words for it right now,” Gandara said. “It's about hard work, dedication and a lot of God. All I want is for him to help me in that finals match.”
In his quarterfinal, he re-injured his shoulder and was lying on his stomach on the mat in clear pain. But he recovered quick and got a third-period takedown for a 4-2 win.
Then came the semifinal against Arch Ratliff. He was down 5-2 late, but got his first escape late in the third. Desperate for a takedown, he knocked Ratliff to the mat as time expired. The main referee waived off the takedown, but after conferring with the secondary ref awarded Gandara the tying points. His takedown in overtime came in similar fashion, on the line at the buzzer.
The sophomore said there was only one point he thought he would fall short of his goal of a state title, and it was when he was hurt in the quarters.
“It happened in the quarterfinals,” Gandara said. “It's not that I didn't think I couldn't win a championship. It was just tough cause in my head I kept thinking I have to win it. In the semifinal, in the first and second period when he rode me down, that brought me down a little. But I had support, my family, my friends, my dad and mom, I knew I had to win it.”
Jankowksi said it wasn't a coincidence Gandara and Nunez were left in the finals.
“You look at our two hardest workers in the room, it's Andy and Luis,” Jankowski said. “Hard work pays off, and it paid of today for those two guys.”
Gaud led his semifinal 3-2 in the last minute, but suffered a late takedown and couldn't escape to force overtime.
“That's a heartbreaker for the team and him,” Jankowski said. “He's the returning state champ and that's one thing he had on his mind all year long. He wanted to become the first three-timer, and now that's gone. But he's got to move forward, come back as a senior and take care of it next year.”
In one of the early rounds, Cibola wrestler Mark Cruz became a “distraction” according to Jankowski and was ejected from the tournament.
“There were a couple calls that were questionable calls in his match,” Jankowski said. “Then he did something I've never, ever seen before in a sporting event ever in my life. He went up into the stands and addressed a different coach. It's something we never want to see. It's not what any team or any sport is ever about.”
So despite the disappointment, Jankowski said the team isn't done yet.
“We are still going to battle until the bitter end,” Jankowski said. “That's the way we've always been and that's what we preach to the guys. .. .Everything was right in front of us today. We just didn't take advantage.”
The only other Division I wrestler alive for a medal is Carlos Urquijo, the San Luis 220-pounder. After losing 9-4 to a wrestler he beat in sectional, he won his next two matches. He needs one more win to guarantee a medal.
“He lost to a kid he lost to in sectionals,” coach Rob Jankowski said. “Enough said. I think he was just thinking to much.”