Graduation last spring hit Desert Vista’s varsity wrestling program hard last spring.

The Thunder lost nine state qualifiers, including Ben Carrillo, a 5A-I state champion in the 140-pound class, off of a fourth-seeded team.

But Desert Vista coach David Gonzalez isn’t calling this a rebuilding year.

“We’ve got a good group,” Gonzalez said. “I tell them every day that I don’t want to believe that we’re in a rebuilding mode. If you fall into that logic that you’re rebuilding it’s always going to be a tough year.”

The Thunder have two sophomores and three juniors among the wrestlers on the squad this season.

“We go with what we’ve got,” Gonzalez added. “I believe these kids are ready no matter who I put out there.”

He should feel confident with wrestlers like sophomore Robbie Mathers, the only returning qualifier from last season.

Mathers placed third at 103 pounds last season and is moving up to 119 pounds this year.

Quinn Smith is another returnee on the Thunder team, who gets a chance to move down in weight.

“We expect a lot out of him this year,” Gonzalez said. “He’s about 200 pounds, but because of the tough lineup we had in the past three years he always had to suffer wrestling in the heavyweight, so he’s always been the odd man out.”

Smith is expected to be in the 215 class this season.

“I told him it will be kind of nice wrestling someone his own weight and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s a lot easier than moving a 240-pound body.’”

Alex Bambic will be in the heavyweight class this season while Ryan Middleton goes at 112 and Tyler Struck will be in the 125-pound class. Dylan Kearney is slated for the 145-pound division.

Struck and Kearney also qualified for the state meet last season.

Gonzalez is counting on sophomore Michael Arredondo to score some points at 189 pounds in his first varsity season.

Arredondo was undefeated at middle school and as a freshman, but lost his first varsity match in the season opener last week.

“We expect a lot out of him, but moving up to varsity is a big jump,” Gonzalez said. “He’s got to earn his stripes.”

Desert Vista has shifted conferences and has moved out of the Central to the Fiesta Region with Brophy, Chandler, Mesa Red Mountain, Chandler Hamilton, Mesa and Mesa Red Mountain this season.

“For wrestling purposes, I like the new region because we’re guaranteed tough competition,” Gonzalez added. “Those guys are always on my wish list.”

He wants his wrestlers to feel like they can compete with the best and not be intimidated by a logo on an opponent’s uniform.

“I want our guys to be battle-tested,” he added. “If it’s a one-point match we’ll make that one point in our favor. We want to help these kids believe they can do it.”

Although they are young and need varsity experience, Gonzalez thinks he’ll have some depth this season.

“We’ll be playing around with the lineup,” he said, “but at the end of the year we hope to have the lineup we need and we’ll have a chance to do some amazing things that people aren’t counting on.”

Unlike football and basketball, wrestling uses a qualifying system rather than power point rankings.

“Your record doesn’t make a difference in the end,” Gonzalez explained. “It’s a 16-man bracket and all you have to do is go 3-0 in the sectional and 4-0 in the state meet. Those are the only ones that matter. The rest are practice matches.”

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