The beginning of the wrestling season is so much different than the end.
Wrestlers are generally physically fine and competing, generally, at a higher weight class than the one they will be at in a month or two.
By the end of the year everyone is beat up by the physicality to a certain extent that comes with the sport and they have a bit of an edginess to them because they’ve dropped a weight class and just about everyone is in a bad mood when dieting.
As long as it pays off with getting your hand raised in the end it is well worth it.
The question, now, is what local athletes will be the next to get their names and/or pictures on the wall in the respective wrestling rooms as state placers and champions?
Mountain Pointe has not had a state placer since the 2009-10 season when James Carroll (125) took fourth and this year’s group of seniors were just freshmen.
The Pride believe that can change with a senior class looking to finish strong under new head coach Darrick Kahle, who was an assistant at Mountain Pointe the last few years and placed at state for Corona del Sol in the mid-1990s.
Kahle opened the room during offseason in an attempt to make the sport a year-round sport it needs to be in order to have success year after year.
“I’m excited about the season,” said Kahle, who takes over for Shannon Radford, who will still be in the room as an assistant coach. “We have quite a few seniors in the lineup and hopefully they can improve on what they’ve done in the past.”
The Pride return three state qualifiers from a year ago in Cody Rojas (113), Trey Stevenson (125) and Blake Gaughan (145).
“They all take on leadership in different ways, but they know how everyone looks up to them and what they accomplished,” Kahne said. “They’ve made it to state, but now they have to take the next step and find a way to place.”
The next wave of seniors trying to finish their careers strong will be John Garcia (138), Ashton Hamilton (152), Matt Magro (171) and Patrick Murphy (192).
After the lineup of underclassmen with most of them getting their first exposure to varsity wrestling. The Pride will have trouble competing against the state’s top programs, but Kahne’s background at Corona gives him a chance to bring the right mentality to the program.
“We have to make wrestling a more visible sport at Mountain Pointe,” he said. “This school has some great athletes that succeed in other sports. (Former Corona coach) Dave Vibber always said there was no substitute for hard work and determination. Once we get everyone thinking that way we can start making strides.”
Desert Vista has finished third in the state two years in row while crowning plenty of individual champions to become one of the state’s top programs.
While the Thunder doesn’t have the usual hardware returning, it still has plenty of talent to make a run at the top five.
“A lot of our kids got some varsity team experience last year because of injuries and other issues,” Thunder coach David Gonzalez said. “We always have high expectations with our program and everyone understands what it means.”
The Thunder is led by two-time state champion Alex Bambic, who can become just the second individual from the program to win three, joining 2012 graduate Robbie Mathers.
Bambic is taking a different path than most as he is expected to eventually get down to 182 after winning it at 195 last season and 215 as a sophomore.
The Thunders’ only other returning state placer is Brian Mitchell, who finished sixth last year at 106 pounds as he jumps to 113,
Seniors Cooper Gardner (145) and Tristan Ezell (195/220) should be able to make the jump to the podium giving the Thunder four top-level competitors while junior Matt Mathers (132) is the wildcard. He was a state qualifier as a freshman but missed most of last season with mental fatigue.
“He is in the room and looking good,” Gonzalez said.
The season gets under way with a great test as the Thunder hosts Chandler in a dual meet on Nov. 20.
“It’s always nice to see where you are at the beginning of the year,” Gonzalez said. “We search out the best and it’s a good test, but we are more interested seeing where we are at the end of the year.”
One change the sport will see this year is the addition of a sectional for a total of four in each division, meaning the top four advance to state from sectionals instead of the top five from three sectionals. It fills out the 16-man bracket without having to worry about an at-large bid.
It’s another positive step for the sport although the placement of teams into each section probably has too many of the top programs at the same venue.
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.