Before David Gonzalez left the gym at Flowing Wells in Tucson a couple of weeks ago and headed back up Interstate 10, the Desert Vista wrestling coach had one message for this physically and mentally drained team:
Ten in 10.
The Thunder had 10 more practices before the postseason began and he expected 10 perfect practices.
Now, they are down to one before Desert Vista hosts the one-day Division I, Section III tournament on Saturday.
“I don’t know of many teams that had a schedule like ours,” Gonzalez said. “We are beat up, but better for it. Now we just need 10 perfect practices. We’ve put in the work and this is what the season comes down to.”
The sectional tournament is one of four around the state with the top four in each event advancing to next week’s state tournament.
The 12-team sectional that the Thunder and Mountain Pointe are competing in has two of this season’s frontrunners — Sunnyside and Corona del Sol — and last year’s champion (Chandler).
Add in Desert Vista and Basha and those five programs should grab about 90 percent of the slots available for next week’s state tournament, which begins Thursday with the finals on Friday, at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley.
It leaves precious few opportunities for programs like Mountain Pointe.
The Pride’s lineup is mostly filled with young competitors finishing their first year of varsity action, but senior state qualifiers Cody Rojas (120) and Blake Gaughan (138) are the best candidates to punch their tickets to the state tournament again.
Other Pride candidates are Nick Centeno (113), state qualifier Trey Stevenson (126) and Patrick Murphy (160).
“Those are the five workhorses in our room,” Pride first-year coach Darrick Kahle said. “Hopefully, we get something from those guys and a few more.
“Those kids on the fence are focusing on perfecting what they do best. If they can pull out a win or two against some tough kids it does a lot of for their confidence.”
The Thunder has rarely had a full lineup this season, but has used the last two weeks to heal up and fine tune.
They’ve seen almost all of the teams in the sectional this season so the competitors and coaches know what they are up against. It’s a matter of executing at this point.
“We know what we need to do,” Gonzalez said. “We have worked to get to this point, and now it is time to put it to good use.”
The Thunder has several strong candidates led by two-time state champion Alex Bambic (182) and state placer Brian Mitchell (113).
State qualifiers Jeremiah Imonode (170), Cooper Gardner (138), Matt Mathers (126) and Tristan Ezell (195) will bring a lot of team points as well, but if the Thunder is going to make a push toward defending its sectional title some of the less accomplished wrestlers have to contribute.
Last year, Mitchell and Ezell were the young guns who placed higher than expected to help Desert Vista to that sectional title.
There will have to be similar surprises this year if the Thunder is going to challenge Sunnyside, Corona and Chandler.
“We pushing each other to finish strong,” Bambic said after winning the Flowing Wells individual title. “The work we do now pays off in February.”
Gonzalez knows if the team is going to match or surpass the third place finish the Thunder has come home from state with the last two years, the Thunder is going to have to get as many bodies to state as possible.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve had a tough (schedule) and they know what it takes to place. It is just a matter of finishing strong.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.