Corona wrestlers claim back-to-back state titles

The Aztec wrestling team, touting seven seniors, captured its second straight 5A-I state team tournament Feb. 21 at Tempe High School.

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It was only the second title for Corona in a wrestling program started 30 years ago by former coach Dave Vibber, who retired last year after winning the Aztecs’ first championship.

The Aztecs did not miss a beat under new head coach Jim Martinez when they squared off in the finals against the same team as last season, Mesa High. One exception: This year, the Jackrabbits never had a chance.

“We defeated Mesa both last year and this year to earn our state 5A-I title, but with a much different score,” said senior Blake Ortiz. “This year we demolished them 38-16, when last year we barely snuck away with a one point win, at 25-24.”

In previous contests, the Aztecs usually needed victories from their seniors in the heavier weight categories to get an overall team win. It was not the case at the state team finals, however, when Corona’s lower-weight classes took to the mats against Mesa.

Two freshman wrestlers really came through for the Aztecs big time. Kort Turner, 103 pounds, started the duel off by pinning Mesa’s Kevin Hale. Then Patrick Buck won a hard-fought 7-4 decision at 125-pounds.

“Kort Turner made sacrifices all year to make 103 pounds and was a key to getting a huge pin to start us off in the final team match,” said Martinez. “Patrick Buck progressed throughout the season to place 5th as an individual. That was a great surprise.”

Mesa took the 112- and 119-pound weight classes before Corona’s seniors started racking up the points.

Six out of the seven seniors were victorious in the final match of their high school careers. Brad Spadafore was the first senior to win in the 130-pound weight category followed by seniors Ryan Miller at 154, Blake Ortiz at 162, Derek Felton at 171, Sam Fulton at 189 and Mike Howard in the heavyweight category.

Corona senior Kevin Thomas at 145 put forth a great effort but ended up being defeated.

“Kevin was also instrumental to our success,” said Martinez. “Last year, he wrestled at 189 pounds in the individual and team state tournaments. He committed to getting his weight down to wrestle for us at 145 pounds and placed 4th at the state individual tournament. His dedication, leadership and commitment were inspirational to our team.”

“It felt great to know that all the hard work we put in this year paid off with the state team championship,” said Thomas. “It made me thankful to be on such an amazing team.”

“Coach Martinez had prepared us both physically and mentally to do our best in the state tournament,” said Miller. “When we knew we had won, I felt both relief and excitement. We had to hold in our excitement until we could rush the mat after Mike Howard’s match.”

It was a great season for the Aztecs who also won back-to-back Central Region championships and the 5A-I Individual Tournament championship.

Corona had nine place finishes in the 5A-I Individual tournament Feb. 16-17 at ASU. Buck and Spadafore both had a fifth place finishes. Thomas took fourth place, Simon Allen (215) took third place and Howard second. Howard took home an individual championship medal in the 2009 tournament and was fifth in 2008.

The Aztecs had four senior championship wrestlers in the individual 5A-I tournament. Miller (152) and Felton (171) won their second consecutive individual 5A-I titles.

Three-time state champion Miller took third place in the 2008 individual tournament, first in 2007, 2009 and 2010. Miller’s overall high school record is 187-12 and 47-2 his senior season.

Two-time state champ Felton ended his high school career with a 191-8 overall record, taking second place in 2007 and 2008.

Another senior, Ortiz (160), also won an individual championship, finishing off his high school season with a 44-1 record his senior year and 100-24 overall. Ortiz was third in the 2009 5A-1 individual tournament.

Senior Fulton (189) won his championship match after qualifying for the 5A-I individual tournament for the third year in a row—2008, 2009, 2010. He ended his senior season with a 44-5 record.

“Although last year’s championship was a great win,” said Fulton, “being able to win the championship with teammates I have worked with over the past four years was the best way to finish my high school wrestling career.”

The eight seniors on this Aztec team leave a legacy of two team trophies and seven combined individual state championships.

“It’s a great feeling to know we will be remembered as part of the best wrestling program in the state,” said Ortiz.

“To win it all as a senior almost seems like a good-bye present to our coaches,” said Fulton. “We should really thank both coach Vibber and coach Martinez for all the great coaching we received during our time in Corona’s wrestling program.”

Martinez will be the first to say that working with this group of wrestlers he inherited was a pleasure.

“I have had the good fortune of working with some of the finest wrestlers in the state and they were outstanding as wrestlers, students and respectable young men,” said Martinez. “Their willingness to do whatever I planned made my job easier. They found ways to give me their best matches when it mattered most.”

Martinez also knows he will have his work cut out for him to keep up the successes Corona’s wrestling program has had over the past years but he’s optimistic about the future of the Aztec wrestling program.

“This year’s state championship allows for our wrestlers, and those who will be attending Corona in the future, to believe in this new coaching staff,” said Martinez.

“Losing Dave Vibber was a huge loss to the program and created a lot of apprehension about the future of Corona del Sol wrestling. I hope that what we did this year will have put those fears to rest. I believe that the future of Corona del Sol wrestling continues to look bright.”

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