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Sophomore Kuckuk pulls upset; Hawks have three up for title
PRESCOTT VALLEY — Sam Kuckuk had just lost in the Division II State Wrestling Championships semifinal round.
But his exuberance and excitement afterward showed just how good a day the Gila Ridge sophomore had.
Kukuck unexpectedly won his first two matches, including a pin against the tournament's No. 2 seed, to guarantee a medal at 170.
As a team, the second-place Hawks were trailing Ironwood Ridge by 65. They have three wrestlers going for a title in today's 7 p.m. round: Nathan Mendivil at 106, Austin Gerber at 130 and Isaac Saenz at 145.
They also had four other wrestlers up for a medal, while Yuma High had two wrestlers with a chance.
One of the six Hawks guaranteed to win a medal is Kuckuk.
“Even though I lost this match, I'm still honored to be on my team and help out my team,” the beaming Kuckuk said. “I'm still honored to place at state. It's such an elite level, and I'm just a sophomore.”
Kuckuk got a pin against No. 2 Patrick O'Donnell in just 1:26 using a move he calls “Special K.” He also said that move was responsible for the last five points against Ironwood Ridge's Tristan Mordecai in the semis, turning a major win into a regular decision and coming close to a pin.
“I go in for a shot and wrap my arms around their leg,” Kuckuk said. “Then when most people react, they wrap their arms around my waist and try to lift me up. When they do that, I grab my arms around their arms and roll through. They can't escape. It's worked pretty well to me.”
Kuckuk did enter the tournament 28-8, and Gila Ridge coach Dave King said he wasn't surprised by his sophomore.
“He's a tough kid,” King said. “And he doesn't give up. He's just relentless until the end. It would have been epic to see him get that pin at the end, but I think he wrestled a tough match and he was excited to get into the medal rounds.”
Curtis Cox and Joseph Varella also enter today guaranteed a medal for Gila Ridge. Mendivil, Gerber and Saenz will finish no worse than second. And Emilio Castro is a win away from a guaranteed medal.
“It's really good to be where we are,” King said. “We were within 2.5 points of Ironwood Ridge at one point. A good Day 1 makes tomorrow easier.”
Two Yuma wrestlers met in the first elimination round, with Criminal Kade Kottenbrook and Hawk Levi Riley clashing at 138, which was tied 5-5 after two. Kottenbrook took Riley down early in the third, and it took him until 15 seconds left to escape. He came close to a take-down toward the end but went out of bounds with 3 seconds left and the Criminal came out with a 7-6 victory.
Kottenbrook lost in the next round as two Criminal wrestlers are one win from medal.
“Considering George Arce is one match away from placing, and Andreus Gomez is one match away from placing, those guys stepped it up,” Yuma High coach Jeff Welsing said. “George came into sectionals with a losing record, came in to state with a losing record. He really exceeded expectations.”
Welsing said he expected more from his team. He brought seven wrestlers and at most, two will medal.
“I'm kind of disappointed that some of the kids that I thought would be up there in the team standings didn't come to wrestle today,” Welsing said. “That's my fault. They didn't have a good section tournament and they didn't have a good state tournament. We'll have to go back to the drawing board for next year and figure out what we need to do to change it.”