Liberty, Sunnyside repeat as D-I, D-II wrestling champs

The Flowing Wells Invitational, the last major tournament of the high school wrestling season, always provides a last look at teams from across the state prior to the postseason.

But the event also has a way of removing the drama from the state tournament.

Once again, the Flowing Wells Invite provided an accurate preview of what was to come at state. Peoria’s Liberty High School won the Jan. 21 event and then came back last week to claim the Division I state team title, while Flowing Wells runner-up Sunnyside High School from Tucson claimed its third straight D-II title.

But it was the way that perennial power Sunnyside captured the 33rd state title in the history of the program that provided the exclamation point to another successful season. The Blue Devils dominated the competition at state, leaving the rest of the competing teams far back in the dust.

Sunnyside piled up 277.5 team points, light years ahead of runner-up Mountain View High School (Marana), which finished with 176, and third-place Ironwood Ridge HS (158.5).

Last year, Sunnyside’s 241 points for the title were the most by any team in more than a decade. And this year’s team total 277.5 climbed over that mark and became the third-most in Arizona prep wrestling history.

Liberty also cruised past the field in D-I. The Lions’ 228 points were well ahead of runner-up Cibola High (173) and third-place Mesa Mountain View HS (128.5).

The wins by Liberty and Sunnyside mark the first time since the 2014-15 season that wrestling had state champs in back-to-back years in both of the top two divisions.

Last year, Liberty had enough depth (qualified 13 wrestlers for the 14 weight classes at state) to win the D-I title without posting a single individual title. But this year, the Lions took a different route, using four individual wins to build its team tally: Zander Phaturos (113 lbs.), Tyler Sauter (138), Kamyn Stonebraker (160), and Matthew Stevenson (182).

Sunnyside, which sent 14 wrestlers to state this year, was so dominant that the Blue Devils had matched Liberty’s four individual titles before the state tournament had even reached the halfway mark. Four of the first five matches belonged to Sunnyside, on the way to a total of seven individual titles.

James Williams-Armstrong got the ball rolling by opening with a win at 106 pounds. He was followed by teammates Job Lee (113), Jesse Ybarra (126), and Jaime Rivera (132). The string was interrupted by Gilbert Rodriguez from Marana Mountain View HS, who defeated Sunnyside’s James Brown at 120.

Ybarra finished the season undefeated at 37-0.

The final two Sunnyside titles went to Sebastian Robles at 145 and Fernando Villascusa at 160.

This was also the second year that girls were vying for state championships. Since that is still considered an emerging sport, there is no team competition. Instead, the girls compete for 10 individual titles.

Out of the 10 championships, three went to repeat winners: Sierrah Thrun from Corona del Sol HS at 110 pounds, Kofa High‘s Carolina Moreno at 125, and Centennial HS junior Mia Didur at 185. All three finished the season with undefeated records.

Ironwood High School‘s Emily Porras, who won the title at 101, also capped off an undefeated (22-0) season.