It’s never too early.
Hardly a new concept but one that might prove very fruitful for Arizona wrestling in the years to come after very successful turns at two western-based tournaments with a national event in July approaching with high expectations.
The state’s club coaches, spearheaded by Arizona USA Wrestling Kids Director Tom Wokasch, made a push to get as many of the younger kids — bantam (7 to 8 years old), intermediate (9 to 10), novice (11 to 12), and schoolboy (13 to 14) — exposure at out of state events.
“We’ve had success across the state,” said Mesa Mountain View coach Bob Callison, whose son, Brennan, was a double All-American after placing at freestyle and Greco at intermediate in Utah. “It started with Tom Wokasch inviting people and starting communication with people about the importance of competing out of state.
“The younger the better. The more matches in different (disciplines) the better. Get out there and compete.”
So they did.
At a level that hasn’t been seen in Arizona.
The Western junior duals team, which didn’t field a full lineup, finished fifth in folkstyle and ninth in Greco. The only individual to go undefeated was Desert Vista senior-to-be Tristan Ezell, who bumped to 220 pounds after competing at 195 in the season.
It just so happens Ezell was one of the few from his age group to compete outside Arizona when he was just starting out as a youngster.
“I think that totally helped me because I saw different levels of wrestling and knew I had to get better,” said Ezell, who went 10-0. “My dad and I knew I had to do it to reach the level I wanted to be at my senior year. It laid the foundation for what I’ve become today.”
At the Kids and Cadet Western Regional in Pocatello, Idaho, the state set a new standard for Arizona by winning 124 total medals, including 15 gold. The Cadet team finished third, the best finish ever, out of the 11 western states that attended.
The Kid Nationals were in Orem, Utah, this week and medals kept coming as eight individual champs (four in free style, four in Greco) were crowned with handful of others earning medals.
“We started in September instead of the usual four months with the younger kids,” said Wokasch, who has run the Queen Creek program the last two years. “It will pay off later when they are of high school age. This is the third year of a five-year projection when we really start seeing the payoff, but hopefully it doesn’t stop there.”
Locally the East Valley Wrestling Club and the Thunder Wrestling Club shined, while the top individual was Phoenix resident Alfonso Martinez, a 90-pound Novice, who was one of only six kids (and the only one from Arizona) to pull off the coveted triple crown by winning the title in all three disciplines (folk, free and Greco).
Jeremiah Hollen of the East Valley just missed as he finished second in freestyle at 120-pound Novice after winning Greco and folkstyle.
Ahwatukee was well represented as Desert Vista junior-to-be Brian Mitchell finished fourth in freestyle and sixth in folkstyle in Cadet in Idaho.
In the schoolboy division, incoming freshmen Brendan Gill finished third in all three styles and Gage McGrew finished fourth in freestyle.
Ahwatukee residents Tariq Hornbuckle and Alexander Carrillo fared well. Hornbuckle was fourth in novice folkstyle and Carrillo was fifth in folkstyle and sixth in freestyle at the Cadet level.
All of it adds up to a banner summer with one last showcase event — the Cadet and Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D., July 12-20 — to prove Arizona’s worth.
“We used to beat only teams like Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming and finish in the bottom eight,” Wokasch said. “Now, we are near the top with Idaho, Utah and Oregon. So far everything is going good and hopefully it continues in Fargo.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.