Aztec wrestlers rebuilding: Underclassmen face challenge following departure of seniors

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Corona’s freshman and JV team brought home the championship trophy from the Paradise Valley JV Duals after winning all five matches on Dec. 15. Team members include Ryan Myrick, Sierrah Thrun, Gavin Dominguez, Reven Romero-Huggins, Hunter Wells, Anthony Garcia, Gavin Kelley, David Hunt, Austin Lightfoot, Thai Lowe, Francisco Vasquez, Lorcan Kelleher, Carlos Mendoza, Jacob Attridge, Drew Nicolson, Evan Kallal, Nathan Woods, Joseph Wallace-Hernandez, Jaden Castro, and Dalen Dawahoya. – Photo courtesy Jimmy Martinez

After winning the 2017 AIA Division I State Championship and then finishing fourth in 2018, the Aztec wrestling program, with only five returning starters, started this season in a rebuilding mode.

“This year is going to be very different from past years,” said coach Jimmy Martinez. “Our team will be dominated by underclassmen with very limited varsity experience due to the graduation of a large number of experienced upperclassmen the past two years.”

Corona lost to graduation five wrestlers who competed at state: Bradley Buchholz, Armando Arellano, Jacob Garcia, Jacob Santa Cruz and Santiago Pesquira.

“Jacob Garcia and Armando Arellano both placed fourth at the state championship while Jacob Santa Cruz was sixth,” said Martinez. “We also had two wrestlers, state champion Bryce Nickel and state entrant Tanner Mendoza, transfer.”

The returning starters from last season, Anthony Gonzales, Matt Gable, Zack Kvavle, Michael Orr and Roan Kelleher, in addition to working on their own skills development, will be counted on to set examples and provide leadership to Corona’s young varsity wrestlers.

“All of our returning wrestlers should have successful regular seasons and have a good chance to place at the state tournament,” said Martinez.

“Zack, wrestling last season in the 113 lb. weight category, was awarded a second-place medal after wrestling in the championship match,” said Martinez.

The other three returning wrestlers all qualified and participated in last season’s state meet: Gonzales, in the 106 lb. weight category; Orr, in the 126 lb. category; and Kelleher, in the 160 lb. weight category. Martinez is predicting that two wrestlers new to the varsity team may also have a successful season.

“I think we will see Shane Aguarin emerge from the JV team to have a great deal of success,” said Martinez. “Kevin Beltran-Benitez is someone we, as coaches, anticipate maturing as a senior to challenge for a spot at the state tournament.”

The Aztecs have less than a month to get their young wrestlers experienced and strong enough in order to compete for a chance to wrestle at the state championship match when the sectionals are held Feb. 2 at Desert Vista.

Corona, as part of Section III, will be competing against wrestlers for a spot in the Division I state championship tournament, in the 14 weight categories from Desert Ridge, Desert Vista, Highland, Mountain Pointe, Queen Creek, Shadow Ridge and Valley Vista.

Any wrestlers who qualify, based on the sectional results, for the state championship tournament will then have to compete against the top teams in Arizona including defending state champion Sunnyside and other perennial favorites Cibola, Chandler, Liberty and Desert Vista at the Division I State Championship matches held Feb. 8-9 at the Prescott Valley Event Center.

“This year will be a test for our team and the coaching staff to bring our new and upcoming wrestlers to a competitive level before the sectionals,” said Martinez. “It will be a great opportunity for our team to learn from mistakes and become competitive, these next few weeks, so we can put our best effort forward and do the best we can to qualify and be successful at the state championship level.”

It appears Corona does have a strong freshman/ JV team currently experience and waiting in the wings for their turn next season.

The Aztecs went 5-0 to claim the championship trophy at the Paradise Valley JV Duals on Dec. 15.

“Our younger wrestlers did an awesome job at the Paradise Valley Duals,” said Martinez. “They brought home the team traveling trophy to keep until the duals next season.”

The Aztecs have a match at Shadow Ridge High School, Jan. 10, against Shadow Ridge, Alhambra and Red Mountain.

Corona will also be competing in the Peoria Wrestling Invitational Tournament of Champions Jan. 11 at Peoria High School.

The team’s last two chances to get more competitive wrestling experience before sectionals will be at Tucson High School on Jan. 16 and then against Desert Vista at home on Jan. 24.

Marcos de Niza Wrestling 

Marcos de Niza, which took fifth place out of 43 teams in the Division III state wrestling championships last season, returned five state tournament wrestlers to its team this season but lost five seniors to graduation, four of them who had a tremendous impact on the team’s success.

The Padres lost three seniors who were crowned Division III champions last season and one who placed in the top six.

Alex Torres, who had a 59-0 record entering the state tournament, never lost a match on his way to the championship spot on the podium in the 160-lb. weight category.

His brother, Andrew Torres, had a 57-1 record before the state match. He was crowned the 170-lb. champion.

Hamza Manassrawas crowned the 220-lb. champion after entering the state tournament with a 51-6 record.

Trequan Johnson placed sixth at the state tournament after entering the tournament with a 46-9 record in the 182-lb. weight category while Jose Figueroa wrestled at state for the Padres in the 152 lb. weight category.

Returning state tournament qualifiers from last season who should be returning include sophomore Gavin Gonzales, juniors Zach Martinez and Jacob Navarrette and seniors Malik Shuaibe- Jones and Rafael Cabrera.

Shuaibe-Jones, who had a 45-9 record entering the 2018 state tournament, finished fourth in the 120 lb. weight category.

The Padres will be competing Jan. 16 at the American Leadership Academy against Queen Creek and Tempe high schools and then, Jan. 18, at the Flowing Wells Invitational.

Their last two chances to prepare for the Division III sectionals, which will be held Feb. 2 at Youngker High School in Buckeye, will be Jan. 23 at Greenway High School and Jan. 30 at Mesquite High School.

Aztec Lacrosse

Unlike high school sports on the east coast, lacrosse is not a sanctioned Arizona Interscholastic Association sport but the sport has continued to grow as a club team linked with local Arizona high schools over the past 10-15 years.

The Aztec Lacrosse Club, associated with Corona del Sol since 2003, started their varsity team pre- season practice on Jan. 7, in preparation for the Arizona Lacrosse League regular season which start the week of Feb. 26.

Bob Holland is the new head coach of the varsity team, along with being the leader of the Aztec lacrosse program.

Holland has several years of athletic and academic experience related to playing and coaching lacrosse that he is excited to share with local players and parents.

In his youth, Holland played lacrosse, on a full- ride scholarship, at the University of Maryland. From 1975-79, he played defense and long-stick midfielder for the Terps, who were Division I NCAA national champions his freshman season, in 1975, and NCAA finalists his last three years.

Holland graduated Magna Cum Laude from UoM, where he also won five academic and leadership honorary awards.

Before moving to Arizona, Holland lived in the Seattle area, where he coached middle school and high school athletes for the past 13 years. Holland continues to be an active University of Maryland alumnus, helping run a mentoring program that helps current lacrosse players prepare for post-graduate careers, especially in the medical field.

He started helping lacrosse players prepare for job interviews and later identified student athletes who might be interested in a medical internship about 10 years ago when he worked at General Electric Healthcare.

The Aztec varsity team competes in Division I of the Arizona Lacrosse League, along with 11 other teams in the Phoenix area, including Arcadia, Boulder Creek, Brophy, Chandler, Chaparral, Desert Vista, Gilbert, Glendale, Mountain Ridge, Notre Dame Prep and Pinnacle, plus Salpointe, a team from Tucson.

The Aztec Lacrosse Club also has a junior varsity team that currently competes with 16 other Arizona Lacrosse League teams in Arizona.

Lacrosse, one of the fastest growing team sports in the United States, is a fun method to help kids of all ages develop strong, athletic bodies and to think quickly on their feet.

The Aztec Lacrosse Club offers lessons and youth teams starting from age eight and up.

Check out opportunities to play on a team or for workshops and lessons by contacting the club at azteclaxclub@gmail.com.

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