By Alex Zener
The Aztecs started the year with a strong group of seniors and dominated their competition the second half of the season to culminate in their championship win at the Division I State Wrestling Tournament in Prescott Valley.
“This year was incredible,” said head coach Jimmy Martinez. “I have been fortunate to have a large group of senior wrestlers who have been with me since their freshman year. This group were my first undefeated freshman team and became the nucleus of our team this season.”
“When we started the season, we knew we had a shot at the state title but that we would only have one shot, so we had to get it right,” said Martinez. “Everyone on the team committed to our goal to win State, even though some wrestlers, who had been performing well early in the season, lost their spots when our transfer-student wrestlers were able to participate after sitting out the first part of the season.”
This team state championship win was Corona’s third state wrestling championship. Its first two were in 2009 and 2010.
The Aztecs, after taking second place at the Peoria Tournament of Champions in early January and winning the Flowing Wells Invitational the next week, knew they were on their competitors’ radar.
“We realized we would have a target on our back when the state tournament rolled around,” said Martinez. “Sunnyside is always up there as the team to beat but we started to see that we had the power on our team to match their wrestlers.”
The Aztecs qualified 13 wrestlers out of 14 weight categories for the Division I state championship meet, ultimately defeating Sunnyside by 23.5 points (226.5 to 203), but it was touch and go after the first two rounds.
“We were in the lead by only a point before the semi-finals,” said Martinez. “Then we lost five out of nine semifinal matches.”
“We were redeemed in the next round of wrestle- backs when we won all nine matches that gave us a cushion,” said Martinez. “At that point, we realized we were in a position that would hold up for the championship.”
It helped that Corona had four individual state champions who went undefeated at the state tournament: Cameron Upshur, Jacob Garcia, Vincent Dolce and Brandon Konecny.
One of these almost gave up wrestling.
“Cam became discouraged during the semester break at the Clash in Rochester, Minn., for personal reasons and left the team for a short period,” said Martinez.
“He returned with the desire, motivation and commitment that not only boosted our team with his points but he re-invigorated our team.
He gave us the cushion we needed to win a championship.”
Junior Cameron Upshur, with a 32-4 individual record in the 120-pound weight class, defeated four wrestlers during the state tournament, the first two by fall or pin.
Upshur’s desire and commitment to win was in full display when his third match was tied and went into overtime. Upshur scored the first point to win the match in Sudden Victory 8-7 to wrestle in the championship match, which he won by decision against a Sunnyside wrestler 4-2.
Junior Jacob Garcia came out of the bottom half of the draw with a 23-2 record to defeat a more experienced Cibola senior wrestler and win an individual state championship medal in the 138-pound weight class.
“Jacob started the year ready to step to the head of his weight class,” said Martinez. “A loss at the Peoria Tournament of Champions only served to motivate him more than anything the coaches could have done. He was unstoppable after that loss.
Vincent Dolce went undefeated his senior season, with a 24-0 record at 152 pounds with three out of his four state championship matches won by falls. He defeated a Cibola wrestler who had won 44 matches over the season with a fall in 1:31 minutes to take home his individual state championship.
“Vinny has the attitude that anyone standing on the mat across from him is trying to take something away from him,” said Martinez. “He did everything he needed to do to prepare to win a title, and then he did more by committing to additional technique sessions to ensure he was ready. He doesn’t just prepare to win a competition; he prepares to dominate it.”
Brandon Konecny closed out his senior season going undefeated as well, 26-0, winning his individual championship in the 160-pound weight class with a fall in 1:55 minutes.
“Brandon is a very smart and likable young man who believes in himself,” said Martinez. “He works hard, understands what he needs to do to win, and then just goes about doing it. He’s easy to coach because he needs very little input. He just goes out and wins.”
Corona got the additional points needed to win the championship with three third place, two second place and one third place state medal winners.
Sophomore 106-pound Zack Kvavle, with a 52-4 overall record, took third place after winning his first two matches by falls before losing to the eventual champion and the No. 1 seed from Sunnyside.
Kvavle went on to win his next two matches to take home a third-place medal.
“Zack had an awesome season,” said Martinez. “He is the hardest worker on the team and a bit like the Energizer bunny. He never stops and never runs out of gas.”
Wrestling in the 132-pound weight class, sophomore Bryce Nickel took third place in his first state tournament. After losing in the second round he fought hard in the losers bracket to win his next two matches to win a third-place medal.
“Bryce steadily progressed all year long,” said Martinez. “He is still figuring out what he needs to do to reach the top of the podium, but he works hard and he listens. He’ll be someone in the mix next year.”
Hunter Carmona started his final high school state tournament strong, winning his first two matches by fall before losing his semifinal match in a decision to a Cibola wrestler in the 145-pound weight category. He fought back to win with a 5-1 decision in his final match to take third place ending his senior season with a 43-9 record.
“Hunter is one of our senior leaders who has been part of our core group of successful wrestlers all year,” said Martinez. “He has been a leader on and off the mat who will be heading off to the Coast Guard Academy next year.”
Cole Bernstein placed fourth in the 126-pound weight class ended the season with a 42-10 individual record.
“Cole may have saved his best tournament for his last high school competition,” said Martinez. “He proved to himself that he is one of the best wrestlers in his weight class. He needed to believe in himself and I think he finally figured that out.”
Nick Ruffalo, in the 170-pound weight class, was Corona’s other fourth place finisher accumulating a 44-11 record.
“Nick is another one of our senior leaders that helped the team gel this year,” said Martinez. “He works hard and listens to the coaches. He is the kind of wrestler that coaches are looking for to make a positive impact in the room.”
After losing his first match, senior 182-pound Diego Fill, fought back to win his next four matches and earn a fifth-place medal.
“How can I best describe Diego? Gutsy comes to mind,” said Martinez. “Diego wrestled through a shoulder injury he sustained in the quarter-final round. Many wrestlers would have given up, but Diego took one for the team and wrestled through pain for four matches on Saturday to place fifth and help us win the championship.”
“Those matches will always be memorable because of how tough it is to wrestle with pain. I’m so proud of his effort.”
The final three qualifiers were Dylan Conner wrestling in the 285-pound weight category ending the season with a 36-15 record, Jacob Featherman at 220 pounds (30-15) and Jacob Santa Cruz at 195 pounds (33-17).
The Chargers had four wrestlers qualify for the Division II state wrestling tournament placing seventh as a team with 65 points, mainly due to two junior siblings both going undefeated to place first.
Junior Gator Groves, 53-0 on the season, won four straight matches wrestling in the 145-pound weight bracket to take him his third straight individual state championship.
His brother, Marco Groves, also went undefeated, at 52-0, to win his third straight individual DII state championship medal in the 160-pound weight category.
Senior Kevin Sosa, 36-13, won his first match before losing the next two in the 170-pound weight class.
Fellow senior Alex Kunitada, 37-14, wrestled for McClintock in the 113-pound weight class. He lost his first match but went on to win the next two before being eliminated in the double elimination tournament.
Marcos de Niza Wrestling
Wrestling in Division III, the Padres team took 10th place with 54.5 points at the state championships held in Prescott Valley Feb. 9-10 when five of their wrestlers qualified for the state tournament.
Junior Andrew Torres was the runner-up in the 152-pound weight class championship match after winning three straight matches before falling to the No. 1 seed in the finals. Andrew Torres finished the season with a 44-6 record.
Fellow junior Aljandro Torres took home a fifth-place medal in the 160-pound weight class after losing his first match but then went on a three-match winning streak take fifth place. He completed the season with a 49-4 record.
Senior Edward Hercel wrestling at 195 pounds, defeated his first opponent but then lost two matches in a row to be eliminated in the double-elimination tournament. He compiled a 32-10 record.
Ben Martinez completed his senior qualifying for the state tournament in the 220-pound weight class, finishing with a 21-16 record after being eliminated from the first tournament after the second round.
Junior Hamza Manassra had an up-and-down state tournament in the 285-pound weight class after winning his first match 8-7 to then lose the second match. He would go on to win two in a row before being eliminated after his second lost. He came away with a 34-20 season record.
Corona Girls Soccer
The Aztecs, as the No. 9 seed in the 6A State Championship, defied all odds by not only defeating the No. 8 seed Highland, 2-0, in the first-round Feb. 1 but also the No. 1 seed Hamilton, 2-1, in the quarterfinals Feb. 4 with a 2-1 score.
Corona did lose to archrival Desert Vista, 2-0, in the semifinals Feb. 8 but not before giving the team and its fans something to remember.
The Aztecs had confidence heading into the state playoffs because they had not only played a tough schedule all season but because they had already played most of the top eight teams and thought they could beat any one of them on any given day.
“We had played Highland, Hamilton and Desert Vista during the regular season and even though we lost to all three, we felt comfortable that we could compete with each team in the state tournament,” said head coach Matt Smith.
“We also had unbelievable chemistry, some of the best I’ve ever seen.”
In the first round against Highland, it was a defensive battle until Olivia Nguyen scored two goals in the second half.
In the quarterfinals against Hamilton, Corona was able to get a 2-0 lead after scoring one goal in the first half on a free kick from Laney Gordon and then another five minutes into the second half when Skylar Byrnes kicked in a goal after Abby Robertson’s shot went off the crossbar.
Down two goals with not much time left, the Huskies started to press in an attempt to score after halftime, which they did on a free kick with 10 minutes left in the game.
Corona’s defense kicked up a notch and denied the Huskies another goal and the 2-1 victory.
“Our seniors played incredible defense defending our goal that second half against Hamilton,” said Smith.
Jordan Freese was great in the goal and Nikki Hoey was exceptional playing on a sprained knee.”
“Senior outside backs Laney Gordon and Emily Ramsland were mature, composed and worked incredibly hard on defense,” said Smith.
The offensive players who had scored all season long played strong roles in the state playoffs as well.
“Olivia Nguyen and Skylar Byrnes were our leading goal scorers all year and they delivered in the playoffs, as well,” said Smith.
“Abby Robertson was dynamic in the midfield playing both offensive and defensive roles.
“On defense, Brooklyn Marois in the defensive midfield and our entire backline of Hoey, Ramsland, Gordon and sophomore Sam Scheurer were all great,” said Smith.
“Overall, it was a fun season with a group of girls who liked each other, was played for each other and made coaching high school soccer all it should be,” said Smith.
“A group of tremendous Aztecs who did themselves, their team, their families and their school proud.”