Peanut butter mixed with some New Jersey grit and broken down walls has Arizona wrestling at one of its highest points in recent memory, if not a peak.
In recent weeks, the news coming from wrestling rooms around the state has produced positive news and raised standards.
It all has led to the national meter when it comes to respect Arizona wrestling is edging ever so closer to the higher echelon.
It has been moving that way steadily in recent years with individuals like Diego Bencomo, Luke Goettl and Ryak Finch wrestling at out-of-state college programs, along with Chandler’s Dalton Brady being invited to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
“We have one more step to take and if we can do that it would cement everything we have been trying to do,” state cadet director Dan Cartagena said. “It has been a pretty good run. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
The momentum continues this year with news that Desert Vista graduate Robbie Mathers was one of six wrestlers from around the nation to accept a one-year stay at the OTC.
It also continued on the strength of plenty of protein via gobs of peanut butter as Horizon senior-to-be Garrett Ryan was a double FILA Cadet national champion, bringing home both freestyle and Greco-roman titles from Akron, Ohio.
Anyone who has seen Ryan work and develop in recent years should only be surprised by the fact that he did so at 220 pounds considering he won the Arizona state title at 170 pounds four months prior.
“I’ve been eating a lot and pushed myself at the dinner table,” he said. “I was going through a jar of peanut butter every three days. I hit the weight room hard with some football players. I felt great at that weight and I think I found the right place for me.”
He will represent the United States in the FILA Cadet World Championships Aug. 21-27 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Ryan, who is in line to attend colleges like Harvard, Princeton and Cal Poly with an idea of studying engineering, said he took a different approach to the Akron tournament than previous national tournaments.
“I just wanted to place before, but that was selling myself short,” he said. “I trained really hard for that tournament and I had a different mental connection. ‘Why shouldn’t I win it all?’ So what it if was against a state champion from Ohio or Minnesota? I was going to win it.”
So he did, but before he left for Ohio, Ryan spent a few weeks at Power MMA in Gilbert, which is home to pro fighters Aaron Simpson and Ryan Bader.
Joining him were members of the Arizona Cadet National Dual team, which followed up Ryan’s performance by heading to Daytona Beach June 15-16 and coming in 11th after going 6-2 overall.
It comes a year after going 2-6 at the same event.
“It was a big step forward for Arizona,” said Cartagena, whose son, Dan, was one of the team’s top performers. “We were one win from making the top 10 and two from the top five. The guys came together and you could tell they gelled and something special was happening.”
The team was made up of wrestlers from Corona del Sol, including Ahwatukee Foothills resident Zach Walton, who went 6-2 after having a so-so performance at the same event last year. It affected his performance the rest of the summer last year, but he turned things around to finish second in Division I last season.
“Zach is a completely different level confidence-wise,” Cartagena said. “There is no telling how far he can go.”
Other schools represented on the national dual team included Horizon, Sunnyside, Yuma Cibola, Chaparral, Laveen Cesar Chavez and Verrado.
It’s another sign that the whole state is reaching new levels.
“I feel like we are stepping up,” Ryan said. “We have great coaches and they are trying to advance in the state as a whole. Sunkist (wrestling club) has opened its doors to national team members. The Corona coaches, the Desert Vista coaches and a lot of others are really trying to help everyone.”
Part of that is because Cartagena, a New Jersey native, has made an effort with coaches around the state to drop any hang-ups they have about training with their rival schools for the betterment of the state.
“We had to put that aside and work during the summer as one team,” he said. “Otherwise we were going to stay status quo.”
The hope is a payoff this July when 40-plus Arizonans head to Fargo, N.D., for the Cadet and Junior freestyle and Greco national tournaments. Last year’s high hopes quickly ended when Desert Vista’s Mathers was one of the few bright spots.
“This is going to be the first year that we really see the results of what we have been working for,” Cartagena said. “Last year was really disappointing. We had a strong class but it just didn’t culminate. We didn’t start soon enough and there was a territorial issue going on.
“We had to break down those barriers and I think we have.”
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