For a sophomore, Matthew Mathers showed a lot of maturity and restraint early in the season.
And it is paying dividends now.
The Desert Vista 113-pounder placed at his third straight tournament Saturday, finishing fifth at the meatgrinder known as the Flowing Wells Invitational, after missing the start of the season because he felt he wasn't ready to compete.
"I trained really hard (leading up to the start of the season) and it got to be too much," he said. "I probably shouldn't have done it. I was burned out. I needed a break."
Taking the break appears to have been the right move as he placed seventh at a 64-team tournament in California after Christmas, was fourth two weeks ago at Peoria, and now fifth at Flowing Wells.
"He is in a good place right now," Desert Vista coach David Gonzalez said. "We are working toward the end (state tournament). He is doing what he needs to do for the end."
Mathers was one of the few bright spots for Desert Vista, which finished eighth with a scrambled lineup because of illness, injuries and recruiting trips.
After winning the Peoria tournament, it appeared the Thunder were ready to make a statement as one of the Division I title contenders.
Then something happened.
"Friday the 13th," Gonzalez said.
Desert Vista was without two-time state champion Robbie Mathers at 132 due to an illness, state placer Mike Arredondo (220) was at Northern Arizona on a recruiting trip for football, state champion Alex Bambic (195) lost his first match when he was called for an illegal slam, and then after winning five matches to assure placement he defaulted out to sixth place, and state champion Kendall Love (126) defaulted out with an ankle injury.
The Thunder were out of title contention on the first day but did enough to finish in the top 10 behind four placers as senior Robert Sobarzo finished third at 138, senior Jimi Dixie was fourth at 170 along with Matthew Mathers and Bambic.
Sobarzo defeated Mesa Mountain View's Blake Monty 9-4 for third place. It made up for losing to Monty 6-5 in the quarterfinals.
"I got it in my head that he shouldn't even be on the same mat as me," Sobarzo said. "I didn't keep the pressure on (after grabbing the early lead) the first time."
Sobarzo is working toward his first official placement at state after qualifying for the fifth- and sixth-place match last season, but was disqualified to have his medal opportunity taken away.
"I have to work on my conditioning," he said. "I have to believe in what I can do and get better on the bottom. If I do that then I will be right where I need to be."
Dixie followed up his championship at Peoria with a thud as he lost in the first round to Ironwood Ridge's Tristan Mordecai, only to win the second meeting with a pin in the consolation quarterfinals.
"I wanted to get third, but getting in the top five was pretty good," Dixie said. "We have a few more weeks and I have to just keep getting better."
Gonzalez said the gauntlet of three difficult tournaments in four weeks put a strain on the team, but also showed them what needs to be done. Having the next few weekends free and only two dual meets, including at Red Mountain today, will give the Thunder a chance to heal up before the Feb. 3 state-qualifying sectional tournament.
"We've seen everybody we need to see," he said. "We've seen every team that's going to be in the hunt. We have to get healthy the next couple of weeks and get ready for sectionals."
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