Desert Vista wrestling coach David Gonzalez has been going to the Flowing Wells Invitational since 1994 when he was an assistant with Sunnyside.
It hasn’t changed much.
It is still the Arizona version of a meat grinder.
The field of 37 teams may have changed over the years, but the respect that comes from winning one of the Caballeros is still the same.
“If you place here you can place at state,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a battle each time you step on the mat. There is no letup.”
The Thunder has had a difficult time getting everyone on the mat at the same this year and it has led to some recent defeats in the dual meet portion of the season, but with bulls like Alex Bambic (182), Jeremiah Imonode (170) and Tristan Ezell (195) the team can pile points in a hurry in a tournament setting.
Add in Cooper Gardner (145), Brian Mitchell (113), along with first-year varsity wrestlers Tyler Fritz (152) and Mitchell White (160), and the Thunder can make a run toward a title if everything falls the right way.
“Both of them are coming on and if they can perform well this weekend and beyond it can really help toward achieving our goal, which is being at our best at the end of the season,” Gonzalez said. “We know we have some top kids, but being able to win those other important matches makes a difference.”
The other aspect of Flowing Wells this year is that most of the teams the Thunder will face in the Division I, Section III tournament, where the top four advance to state, will also be in Tucson.
It’s a chance to scout first-hand some of the competition and see how everyone matches up on the Feb. 2 sectional tournament at Desert Vista.
“They’re all pretty much here,” Gonzalez said. “It can set the tone one way or another or prove to be motivation in a second meeting.”
Bambic, a two-time state champion, has been unable to return back to Ahwatukee with the Caballero in hand. He finished third as a sophomore and was called for a slam last season in his first match that threw him into the loser’s bracket where he advanced until placing and then defaulted with an injury.
It has left him hungry to perform well at the state’s in-season tournament. He also isn’t happy about losing in the Peoria finals in his first event back from an injury and illness.
“The loss has him refocused,” Gonzalez said. “A loss can be good if you can use it to your advantage. Hopefully, he is to that point and uses it as motivation.”
While the Thunder is heading south this weekend, Mountain Pointe is going north to the Payson Invitational for the first time in years.
“There is some good wrestling there,” senior Cody Rojas said. “It’s a new challenge for us so it will be good to see what we can do.”
The timing of this weekend’s events are the last major test before the postseason tournament begins.
“It’s the right spot (in the schedule),” Gonzalez said. “We will get a good feel for where we are at. Some of our guys have missed a lot of time so we need to be tested and get some mat time in. It’s exactly what we need right now.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.