While it’s hard to prove with any certainty, the attempt this year to spread out the top teams with a new sectional set-up was successful, if you base it on a lack of repeat team state champions.
Across the board, from Division I to Division IV, there were no repeat titles – and even a couple of first-time winners.
Ironwood Ridge High School made the trek from Tucson to the Prescott Valley Event Center, where the state finals were held, and left with the Division I crown. It was the first-ever wrestling state title for the Nighthawks.
Likewise in Division II, where the Liberty High Lions moved up the final rung of the ladder, winning that title after having to settle last year for a runner-up finish. It, too, was the school’s first.
In Division III, Safford High, which has collected seven state titles over the last dozen years, won its first title since 2010. And Morenci High won its first championship in a decade, adding it to the other five titles it has claimed in the past.
The lack of balance in recent years was most obvious in Division I where sections I and IV spawned 24 of the 28 state finalists. But a little shake-up throughout the divisions appears to have made things more competitive this year.
This is the third year competing in D-I for Ironwood Ridge, which had dominated the D-II competition prior to the move up, winning three state titles from 2011-2013. It was no surprise, however, that the Nighthawks made it back to the top of the mountain this year. They were one of three teams – including Tucson’s Sunnyside High and Mesa’s Mountain View High School – considered the favorites since the season began.
But a convincing win at the multi-state Flowing Wells Invitational as the regular season wound down gave the Nighthawks the role of favorite to win state. The Ridge ran up 194 points to win the state championship, while Sunnyside finished runner-up with 171.5 and Mountain View took third with 166.5 points.
However, Ironwood Ridge will have to try to defend its title next season without Danny Vega, who won at 113 pounds to make it three state titles in a row. If he had not been ruled academically ineligible to wrestle as a freshman, he could well have become one of an elite group of Arizona high school wrestlers who have won four before graduating.
Vega finished his prep career without a loss, racking up a 116-0 record, and has been scooped up by Grand Canyon University.
Jacob Swift is also graduating, but he did wrestle all four years – and won a state title each year. Swift finished his prep career at Deer Valley High School with a 175-1 record, with his only loss coming during his freshman year. He won this year’s title competing at 170, but has had to keep moving up in weight classes as he grew, beginning with his first title at 126.
He, too, may be staying home to wrestle for an in-state program. Arizona State is among the offers he is considering.
Sunnyside may be the incubator for the next four-time champion. Sophomore Roman Bravo-Young won this year’s title at 120, making it two in a row. And his 81-0 record says he’s a legitimate candidate to join the club.