The Flowing Wells Invitational is the final major wrestling tournament of the high school season in Arizona, and often provides a preview of what to expect at the state tournament.
This year was no exception.
Sunnyside High School ran away from the field of 36 teams from around the country to win its second straight Flowing Wells title, almost 50 points ahead of its nearest competitor. Then the Tucson school went on to capture the Division II state title over the weekend by scoring 241 points – the most by any team in the last 11 years – to secure its 32nd state championship in program history.
Desert Vista High School, which finished second to Sunnyside at the Flowing Wells, had to settle for runner-up again as the southeast Phoenix school was edged out of this year’s Division I title by Peoria’s Liberty High. Liberty posted a winning team score of 181 points, 23 points ahead of DV.
This year was similar to last year – but in a flip-flop sort of way. Last year, Liberty was competing in D-II and finished runner-up before being reclassified over the summer to the top division. Sunnyside was in D-I last year, where it won its first state title since 2013 after four straight years of finishing runner-up. In the 20 years prior to 2013, the Blue Devils won 16 state titles.
While Sunnyside has enjoyed a long tradition of being the best wrestling program in Arizona, this championship marks just the second in school history for the Lions. In 2016, Liberty won its first state title in the sport, competing in D-II and squeezing past Chandler’s Seton Catholic by just five points to make history.
Liberty, which qualified 13 wrestlers for the 14 weight classes at state, managed to bring home the hardware without placing a single champion. The Lions racked up their 181 points with just three wrestlers making it to the finals: Zander Phaturos (106), Carson Coy (113), and Collin McCorkle (145).
Sunnyside also sent 13 wrestlers, but eight made it to the championship round and five won individual titles. Those gold-medal winners included: James Brown (113), Jaime Rivera (120), Rico Robles (138), Anthony Echemendia (152), and Elijah Wyatt (182).
This was also the first year that the state championships included girls competing against other girls in a separate division. There were 10 weight classes in the inaugural season, filled with 150 qualifiers – and the girls’ competition drew a large crowd at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, where the D-I and D-II boys’ competition also took place. The girls wrapped up their competition in a single day, on Friday.
Since girls wrestling in Arizona is still considered an ’emerging sport’ and depends on various tournaments during the regular season for opportunities to participate, the girls came into the state tournament with limited experience compared to the boys.
The sport this season was dominated by a handful of participants, with seven out of the top 10 seeds coming into the state tourney undefeated. Danni Schulz, a senior at Mingus High School in Cottonwood, was one of those. She made perhaps the most impressive showing in the tournament, pinning all three opponents to win the 225 weight class to conclude the season 16-0.
Julia Chambers, a Skyline High School (Mesa) sophomore also had three pins at 125 pounds and finished 25-1.