Although the Aztecs have several strong performers in their current wrestling program, it may be challenging for the defending Division I state championship team to repeat in 2018 after losing more than two-thirds of their state medalists to graduation when Division I is predicted to be extremely competitive this season.
“We lost seven state championship-place winners,” said Martinez. “These former seniors earned 137.5 of our 225 total championship points.” Graduating last May were state champions Vincent Dolce in the 152-lb. weight class and Brandon Konecny in the 160-lb. weight class, along with Hunter Carmona, who took third place at state in the 145-lb. weight class.
Additional graduating seniors who earned points toward last season’s state championship team included Cole Bernstein, who placed fourth in the 126-lb. weight class; Nicholas Ruffalo, fourth in the 144-lb. weight class; Chris Fill, fifth in the 182-lb. weight class; and Jacob Featherman who placed sixth in the 220-lb. weight class.
The Aztecs had wrestlers qualify for the 2017 Division I state championship tournament in all weight classifications except the 113-lb. category. Who qualifies this year will not be known for sure until after the sectionals.
“This season is going to be different than last year’s championship season,” said head coach Jimmy Martinez. “The competition from Sunnyside, Chandler, Mesa Mountain View, Tucson and Basha will be tough but we will still have opportunities if some of our new wrestlers are able to competitively fill the weight classes vacated by the championship team we had last season.”
The Aztecs did return 11 wrestlers with varsity experience from last season’s championship team, including four with state-championship tournament experience that will be counted on this season to provide the backbone of the team points.
“Senior Jacob Garcia, who was 23-2 last season, is set to defend his state championship title in the 138-lb. category,” said Martinez. “Jacob earned All-American honors after placing sixth in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Junior Nationals Championship Tournament held in Fargo, No. Dakota, July 15-22.”
Garcia has signed a letter of intent to wrestle at the United State Air Force Academy next fall.
“Zack Kvavle and Bryce Nickel, who both placed third at state last year, will be serious threats for earning championships this season for themselves,” said Martinez. “Zack and Bryce also wrestled throughout the summer and competed at the Junior Nationals in Fargo with Jacob Garcia.”
“In addition, we have Jacob Santa Cruz, who qualified for state the last two years, in the 195-lb. weight class, and is ready to get on the podium,” said Martinez.
The remaining wrestlers who have significant varsity experience that should help them heading into sectionals, according to Martinez, are Matt Gable, Shane Aguarin, Bradley Buchholz, Armando Arellano, Ryan Chancellor and Roan Kelleher.
“We have a large senior class again this season who know what it’s like to win a championship,” said Martinez. “This is their fourth year in the program. They have a good understanding of what is expected and should be able to provide a good nucleus of work ethic, match experience and desire for success to inspire our younger wrestlers.”
A couple of these younger promising wrestlers include sophomores Anthony Gonzales and Tanner Mendoza.
“Anthony will be our 106-pound wrestler as we start the year,” said Martinez. “He had a very successful freshman year and should be very competitive this season for us.”
Mendoza was one of the six Aztec wrestlers to go undefeated with 10-0 records and be selected to the All-Tournament team when Corona took third place in the Nate Johnson Memorial Invitational held Dec. 1-2 at Red Mountain High School.
“The team compiled a 9-1 record during the tournament, losing only to eventual champion Yuma,” said Martinez.
The other five undefeated wrestlers who were also selected to the All-Tournament team included Zack Kvavle, Bryce Nickel, Armando Arellano, Roan Kelleher and Jacob Santa Cruz.
Martinez knows that each match is important for the Aztecs to succeed this season.
“The wrestlers need to learn quickly, try new things to add to their skills, and keep improving each week to be successful in February,” said Martinez. “We look forward to seeing the team evolve over the season and to good things happening as we head into sectionals and state.”
The Aztecs should get a chance to gain experience and improve their skills when the team competes in the Moon Valley Invite, Dec. 22-23; in the Peoria Invite, Jan. 5-6; and in the Battle for the Belt Tournament, Jan. 12-13 in Temecula, Calif., in addition to several dual meets this month and next.
The Sectionals are scheduled for Feb. 3 and the Division on State Championship Tournament Feb. 8-9.
Tempe All-City Association Awards
The Tempe All-City Association Fall Sports Awards Banquet was held Dec. 4 at the DoubleTree in Tempe. Corona had 12 athletes honored, McClintock three and Marcos de Niza two.
Brennen Agnew, Katie Carroll and Eileen Li received awards for their skills and achievements as members of Corona’s badminton team.
“Brennen finished the year 24-6 after taking third place overall in the Division I singles state championships,” said coach Darren Ridge. “Brennen, who only started playing badminton last year, is a multi-talented athlete who also plays basketball and softball.”
Carroll and Li were recognized for their doubles play.
“Katie and Eileen made a great doubles team, compiling a 20-2 record but losing in the second round to the eventual doubles state champions from Perry,” said Ridge. “Both played singles for us as well where Katie went 10-4 playing in the No. 3 spot while Eileen was 12-2 in the No. 4 position.”
Sophomore Tres Walker was honored for his diving skills while Benjamin Quon, Reese Latto and Dylan Edge were presented awards for swimming.
“Tres, a former gymnast, placed 10th at the Division I state meet his first year diving,” said Corona head coach Ron Musgrave. “He won due to his work ethic and devotion to improving his craft. Both our diving coach, Mike Floyd, and myself look forward to working with him again next year.”
Quon received an All-City award all four years that he swam for Corona. He can and does swim a number of different events but dominated the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events this season.
“It was a fantastic senior year for Ben, who set a new Corona school record in the 500 freestyle (4:36.79) and missed setting a school record in the 200 freestyle by .2 seconds. He won the 200 and 500 at the Craig Cummins Invitational and the 100 backstroke at the Brophy Invitational, and placed second in the 200 at state and fourth in the 500,” said Musgrave.
“Ben was a member of the 400-yard freestyle relay team, along with Dylan Edge, Reese Latto and Adam Johnson, who set the school record (4:36.79),” said Musgrave. “He has committed to swim for Xavier University next fall.
“Reese was awarded for his accomplishments swimming the 100 breaststroke,” said Musgrave. “Reese set a personal goal to swim under one minute this year and to be a Tempe All-City awardee. He swam under a minute (59.55) at the state meet placing third and thus accomplished both goals.”
Edge was recognized with an award in both the 100 backstroke and the 200 IM.
“Dylan won third place at state in the backstroke and ninth in the 200 IM,” said Musgrave. “He dominated the 100 backstroke in the All-City Meet winning the event by over five seconds where he also won the 200 IM.”
“The hard work of Ben, Reese and Dylan in exceeding personal and team goals helped our boys team win the All-City Meet for the first time in years,” said Musgrave. “Reese won the 100 breaststroke and was second in the 200 IM.
Corona’s volleyball team who was awarded the runner-up trophy at the 6A state volleyball tournament had four players given awards.
Brooke Nuneviller was awarded for her skills as an outside hitter. Nuneviller was the kill leader on the team with 593 kills or 5.0 kills a set and the leading digger on the team with 493 digs or 4.2 digs a set. In addition to her offensive and defensive skills, she had 49 aces and close to 50 blocks. Nuneviller has committee to play next fall at the University of Oregon.
Emma West tallied 249 kills and 45 blocks her senior year on Corona’s 41-3 team. She was given the All-City award as an opposite hitter.
Abigail or Abby Meyer was given the All-City award for her skill in setting up her hitters to win points. She compiled 1281 assists throughout the season or almost 11 assists a set while also serving more aces, 64, than anyone else on the team. She also dug the ball on average 5.3 times a match.
Alyssa Wissinger, received an award for her skills playing middle blocker. She had 222 kills and 52 total blocks her senior year.
Corona’s leading receiver, junior Ricky Pearsall, was given an All-City award for his outstanding play at the wide receiver position. Pearsall was the leading receiver on the team catching 74 passes for a total of 1153 yards or an average of 115.3 yards per game. He scored 13 of the teams 20 touchdowns and on two-point conversion for a total of 80 points.
On defense, Pearsall, intercepted two passes. McClintock had three swimmers win awards. Senior Rider Griffin was honored in the 50-yard freestyle category. He placed 15th in the 100-yard Freestyle at the Division II state meet and was the leadoff swimmer in the Charger’s 200-yard Freestyle relay team along with Jackson Hartgraves, Maxwell Nielsen and Gage Reitzel which took eighth place.
McClintock’s girls team has two young swimmers who wowed their competition at the Division II state meet earlier this year and who won awards at the All-City banquet: Sophie Velitchkov and Ryan Burke.
Sophomore Velitchkov was awarded for her skills in swimming the 100 backstroke and the 100 freestyle. She took second place in the backstroke and 13th in the freestyle at the Division II state meet.
Burke, only a freshman, was awarded for the 100 butterfly and the 200 IM. Burke placed in two individual events at the state meet by taking 11th place in the 200-yard IM and 7th in the 100-yard Butterfly.
Velitchkov and Burke also swam on the Chargers 200-yard Medley relay team which finished in 9th place at state with freshman teammates Candace Farling and Kristen Clark.
Marcos de Niza had four football players received All-City awards: Eilye-Oshaye Hill, Joren Davis, Mario Gastelum and Torren Union.
Hill was awarded for his skills as an offensive lineman. Playing in only six of the 11 games his junior year, Hill tallied two quarterback sacks along with 13 solo tackles and 9 assisted tackles for a total of 15 or 2.5 tackles a game.
Davis, who played in all 11 games his senior year, caught 36 passes for a total of 648 yards and four touchdowns making him the leading wide receiver on the Padres team.
Gastelum was awarded for his defensive skills as a linebacker as a junior. He played in 10 games and was the leading defensive tackler on the team with 73 total tackles where more than half or 38 of them were solo tackles. He also intercepted the ball two times and was given credit for causing two defensive fumbles.
Union, also a junior, was awarded for his play as a defensive back. Playing in only nine of the 11 games, he was credited with 13 solo and 18 total tackles.