Dalton Brady and Anthony Robles have the luxury of reflecting.
They’ve finished as two of the most highly regarded wrestlers in Arizona history.
Most of today’s competitors who step on the mat are still chasing their goal at the 38th annual state tournament, just hoping to be one fourth of the wrestler that Brady was and accomplish one half of what Robles accomplished.
“It was like taking a breath for the first time,” Robles said of winning his first of two Arizona state championships for Mesa. “It’s hard to describe, but standing on the podium and remembering how hard I had to work to get there, you realize you would do it 100 times over for the moment.”
Desert Vista senior 220-pound Tristan Ezell was there in 2005 when Robles, who was born without his right leg, won his first state at Jobing.com Arena.
“That was an amazing thing to see,” Ezell said. “I’ve had friends and teammates win state, but that one had to be the best. As long as I can remember I’ve thought about winning state and that’s what is in front of me.”
Ezell is one of six Desert Vista wrestlers (224 overall) competing in the Division I state tournament at Tim’s Toyota Center. Every single one of them at some point has dreamt of being a state champion.
For some it’s a long shot, others have a few years to reach that level, while seniors just have two days to get it accomplished.
“Whenever I have a state champion I always ask them how it feels because I never got to accomplish it myself,” said Thunder coach David Gonzalez, whose first state champion as a head coach was Sage Ornelas in 2008. “It’s something special you get a chance to share with someone who has been working for that goal for years.”
It’s a grind mentally and physically that only those who have stepped into a wrestling room, have had the guts to step onto a mat where across from them is an opponent ready to physically manhandle them and sacrificed much of their life (relationship with food and friends mostly) in order to be at their best in six minute spurts can truly understand.
And to hear Brady, who won four Arizona state titles for Chandler, talk about it, winning a first one isn’t always satisfying enough.
“I had this unsettling feeling the whole night, just because the match went into double overtime,” Brady remembered thinking in the hours after winning his first title in 2010. “And I was really scared and nervous of losing. The match shouldn’t have been close at all. But I got the win and that’s all that matters. But I needed more experience so that would never happen again.”
While winning an individual state title is the ultimate goal, taking home the team title at the state tournament is pretty gratifying as well.
In Division I Mesa Mountain View is the favorite after advancing 13 wrestlers from sectionals, while Cibola has the best shot to win it all in Division II with 12 qualifiers.
The Toros haven’t won a title since 2000 and will be challenged by Sunnyside and Chandler, while the Raiders haven’t won since 1995.
Winning one doesn’t always come down to individuals placing, but a total team effort which could mean a wrestler fighting to get off his back in order to lose only by seven points instead of eight.
“It’s a different type of feeling, but a great one,” said Gonzalez, who helped Sunnyside win four as an assistant coach. “Finishing second in 2002 (at Desert Vista) was a huge accomplishment. We had some good individuals but we finished second as a team. To me that was a huge accomplishment. Seeing everything we worked all year for come together was as good as it gets.”
Gonzalez, who takes pride in helping Brent Woodmansee to the 2002 160-pound title as an assistant coach, and the Thunder probably won’t be in the running for a team title this weekend simply because they didn’t get enough bodies through sectionals. So the focus turns to getting someone like 113-pound sophomore Alex Carrillo, 182-pound junior Jeremiah Imonode or Ezell to advance through the bracket and to the top of the podium first time and the 17th time in school history.
“This is what everyone works for,” he said. “Only those who know the sport truly understand all of the sacrifice and hard work it takes to get there so when it happens the emotions just take over.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.