It’s not too often that a freshman earns the special honor of being named Player of the Year in his or her sport. But to have two freshmen coming out of the winter sports season with that distinction is rare indeed.
And it would be hard to argue with either selection by the folks at azcentral sports.
Roman Bravo-Young literally dominated the sport of wrestling at 106 pounds, running up an incredible record of 43-0 and winning a Division I state championship in his first year of high school competition.
And at 6’11”, Marvin Bagley III likewise dominated, in this case on the hardwood, leading the Corona del Sol High School boys basketball team to another D-I state title.
Both athletes managed to stand out above the crowd in programs that feature some of the best competitors at two of the top schools in their respective sports. Bravo-Young, the Arizona Wrestler of the Year, competes for Tucson’s Sunnyside High School, which has dominated high school wrestling going back into the ’80s. The school has won 16 state titles over the past two decades, with its last championship in 2013 and runner-up finishes the last two years.
Bravo-Young stepped into a void at 106 pounds, a result of Danny Vega moving up to wrestle at 113 this year. Vega, a junior at Ironwood Ridge High School, was the reigning title holder at 106 and captured his second straight with this year’s title at 113.
Had Vega stayed at 106, it would have been an interesting match-up in the state tournament. As good as Vega is, however, the new kid on the block would have been hard to beat. Bravo-Young was just one of numerous wrestlers who went undefeated this season, and one of three Sunnyside wrestlers to win a state title, but the way he did it was impressive, to say the least. The announcement of his selection as Wrestler of the Year pointed out that he had just one take-down all season and didn’t give up a single offensive point to in-state competition.
And even on the national stage, he was at the top of his game. He won against some of the country’s best wrestlers at the elite Reno Tournament of Champions in December, the only wrestler from Arizona to win a national competition.
While Bravo-Young was pinning his opponents, Bagley was dunking on his. He averaged 19.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 2.3 assists in his first year of high school ball to earn his selection as the Big Schools Player of the Year.
And he put that kind of season together after a foot injury kept him out of fall practices, pre-season scrimmages, and the first five games of the season. He wasn’t expected to be ready until mid-December, but returned a couple of weeks early to provide the final key piece to Corona’s championship run.
Bagley played on a roster that was already loaded with college-scholarship talent, but having a dominant force inside made the Aztecs the odds-on favorite to win it all. And it didn’t hurt that the big guy could handle the ball like a guard, run the court with the guards, and shoot the ball with accuracy from just about anywhere on the floor.
He got his first letter of interest from college recruiters back in seventh grade when Northern Arizona became the first school to contact him and is now considered by numerous recruiting services to be the No. 1 college prospect in the Class of 2018 – and Corona’s ticket back to state title contention.
But a senior also got into the mix this year. Kristine Anigwe, a 6’4″ center for Desert Vista High School, was named the girls’ Big Schools Player of the Year after averaging a double-double throughout the season and led her Phoenix school to a state title last year and a berth in the Division I semifinals this year.
Anigwe averaged 21.1 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, shot 63 percent from the field, and scored in double figures in each of her 27 games.
The Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year was also selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game, which will be held in Chicago on April 1. After that, it will be time to begin preparing for the start of her college career at University of California.