Flowing Wells Invite: Liberty HS wins first-ever team title

For the last decade, the Sunnyside High School wrestling teams have used the prestigious Flowing Wells Invitational, the last major tournament of the season, to help gauge where the Blue Devils stand as they get ready to compete in a few weeks for another state title to add to the 32 they already have in the trophy case.

The Flowing Wells drew 40 boys’ teams and 34 girls’ teams this year, with four of the top five boys’ teams in Division I and three of the top four in Division II in the field – not mention some good out-of-state competitors.

Since 2011, Sunnyside has either won the tradition-rich tournament or finished in the top three. The Blue Devils won it in 2018 and 2019.

In fact, Sunnyside has pretty much owned the tournament in recent years. Last year’s win was the program’s 30th tourney title and the 15th since 1996.

But this year the tournament, which draws teams from several states and just completed its 54th season, has shown that the Tucson powerhouse, the reigning Division II state champion, may have to begin sharing the limelight at the Flowing Wells.

Sunnyside finished runner-up to Liberty High School, a Peoria school that is becoming an emerging force in the sport after winning last year’s Division I state championship.

Liberty piled up 308.5 points to secure its first-ever Flowing Wells title, while Sunnyside finished closely behind with 256.5 team points. To give some perspective to Liberty’s scoring dominance, Sunnyside won last year’s tourney with 270 points, and scored 240 to win the 2018 title.

The Lions padded their score this time with 10 top-five finishes outside of the title wins, including four runners-up, and Sunnyside collected a total of seven top-five placements that included three runners-up.

Sunnyside was a formidable opponent this year since the Blue Devils had five individual state champions returning from last season. But Liberty showed depth early in the season, finishing second in two major tournaments, the Peoria Invitational and the Las Vegas Holiday Classic.

In the latest edition of the Super 10 rankings, evaluating Arizona teams from across the top four divisions, Sunnyside is No. 1 and Liberty is No. 2.

Liberty’s two first-place wins at the Flowing Wells came from sophomore Zander Phaturos at 115 lbs. and senior Kamyn Stonebraker at 162. Sunnyside also picked up two individual titles: 108 lbs., where freshman sensation James Armstrong pushed his season record to 33-1, and at 128, where two-time state champion Jesse Ybarra made up for last year’s failure to win the title, suffering his first loss of the season.

And the girls’ results…

Last year marked the first time the Flowing Wells Invite included a girls’ division. Since then the girls’ participation has almost tripled, from 13 teams entered last year to 34 teams this year.

Girls wrestling is still considered an ’emerging sport’ and, thus, doesn’t crown team champions. But in the individual performances, Carolina Moreno from Kofa High School in Yuma, who is undefeated this season with 14 wins, was named Top Wrestler on the girls’ side. She defeated Bree Garcia, a sophomore from Barry Goldwater High School who is 16-2 this year, for the title at 127 lbs.

Robert White, a senior at Safford High School, was selected for the boys’ honor.

The third defending state champion that was entered in the Flowing Wells Invite was Walden Grove HS, the D-III state title-holder. The Tucson-area school finished in 12th place — but its coach came out a winner. Victor Gonzalez was named Arizona Coach of the Year, awarded at the tournament by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.