This year’s state high school wrestling championships bore little resemblance to those in past years, as the old class structure gave way to four divisions. And instead of qualifying at regional tournaments, wrestlers now qualify at sectionals in order to go on to state title contention.
There are now three sectional tournaments within the divisions and the top five wrestlers from each move on to state, plus one sixth-place finisher decided by highest winning percentage.
Not all schools have been happy about the format change.
Some argue the new format changes the way coaches have to set up their teams because now it is more important to have five to seven top wrestlers than to have greater depth on the entire roster.
And the increase in participating teams from 30 to 48 means it should be more difficult for teams and individuals to win championships.
But don’t try to tell that to Sunnyside High School or Kory DeBerry.
The Tucson wrestling powerhouse won its 14th consecutive state team title, competing in the new Division I instead of the old Class 5A format.
And the Blue Devils’ biggest star again took center stage and finished out his high school career by capturing his fourth straight state championship. DeBerry defeated Edgar Verdi from Mesa HS to win the 152-pound title, cap an undefeated season (38-0), and make him just the 26th wrestler to win four Arizona state titles.
And Dalton Brady from Chandler HS probably didn’t notice much difference this year either, as the sophomore also wrestled in Division I and won his second straight title at 112 pounds and also finished undefeated at 41-0.
Cedric Gonazalez was the only other individual champion for Sunnyside, winning his title in the 171-pound weight class.
In the new Division II, Ironwood Ridge HS wasted little time getting acclimated to the new format. The Oro Valley school posted individual titles in two of the first four weight classes, as Connor Buette won at 119 pounds and Tate Sandifer took the 125-pound title.
Bret Gudeman from Cienega HS in Vail and Kolton Lock from Queen Creek HS were the repeat champions of Division II. Gudeman was able to finally break through and win a state team title in the 135-pound class after two consecutive seasons as runner-up, and Lock repeated as the 145-pound champion.
Thunderbird HS pulled the upset of the year in Division III and Mogollon HS crowned four champions in Division IV as it won its first team title since 1995.
Thunderbird squeeked past perennial powerhouse Mingus HS in Cottonwood, 158.5 to 157.5 points, to claim this year’s title. A 5A school, Thunderbird was thrown into Division III with Mingus, which has won five straight state championships in 4A and Safford HS, which owns the last six state titles in 3A.
The highlight for Safford, which finished fourth this year, was the third straight individual title for Trey Andrews at 121, which gives Andrews a shot next year at reaching the exclusive club that DeBerry just entered.
Mogollon’s individual champions included Dallyn Despain at 119, Smiley Beecroft at 125, Dan Gaylor at 135, and Boone Baker at 171.
Division IV also had a couple of repeat champions in Ryder Nielson from St. John’s HS, who won his second straight title at 112, and Johnny Salcido from Antelope HS, who posted a 46-0 season and second straight championship in the heavyweight class.
Looks like the format has changed, but the winners roll on.