The path to the state wrestling tournament has been scrutinized with power pockets of teams at certain sectional tournaments.

All of that fodder will play out right around when the first round of the Division I tournament ends on Thursday.

The more interesting path to watch is that of individuals like Mountain Pointe senior Patrick Murphy.

He took up the sport seven years ago, worked hard but it didn’t come naturally like it does for Arizona’s elite like Chandler senior Dalton Brady or Desert Vista senior Alex Bambic, who are going for their fourth and third state title, respectively.

Murphy ended up on the wrong side of the score plenty of times, sometimes missing out on making the podium completely at tournaments, but he never let it get to him.

The 160-pounder just kept working, putting in his time and making strides. It led to a fourth-place finish at the Payson Invitational in mid-January and his confidence spiked.

It led to his first state qualification when he finished fourth at the Division I, Section III tournament. While winning a sectional title was a bit of a ho-hum moment for most of the 14 champions that were crowned because they have bigger goals ahead of them, finding his way to the state tournament was everything for Murphy.

“It’s amazing,” Murphy said about being a state qualifier. “It means all the hard work over the last seven years finally paid off.”

How far he goes at state is unknown, but regardless of how Murphy (27-13) fares in the two-day event at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, he will always be able to say he is a state qualifier.

“I’m not done and I can’t wait to get there,” Murphy said. “I am not happy with just getting there, but I’m proud to get that chance.”

Murphy is one of nine area wrestlers to take their shot this week.

Mountain Pointe four-time state qualifier Cody Rojas (120) joins Murphy for the Pride, while Ahwatukee resident and Corona del Sol junior Zach Walton (37-3) looks to top his runner-up finish from last season.

Desert Vista is led by the 182-pound Bambic, who can tie the school record of three state titles, with state-placer Brian Mitchell (113), senior Cooper Gardner (138), Jeremiah Imonode (170), Tristan Ezell (195) and Adam Ortega (HVY) also qualifying.

Ortega is the only one without state experience so the Thunder should be able to score some team points, but a third straight year of having three state champions might be tough to do.

Not that coach David Gonzalez is counting out another surprise run to the finals by some of his competitors.

“Six (qualifiers) is OK, but I was hoping for eight or nine,” Gonzalez said. “It is what it is. We’ll take these guys up there and get them ready to finish strong.”

The Thunder are on the outside looking in for the state team title based on sheer numbers.

Mesa Mountain View, behind nationally ranked Seth Monty, has 13 qualifiers, followed by Sunnyside (11), Cibola (11), Corona del Sol (10), while defending champion Chandler has nine.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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