Sunnyside’s return to D-I sets up wrestling title showdown

The Blue Devils are on the move again.

Sunnyside High School‘s wrestling program will be competing in Division I this season after spending the last two seasons in D-II.

However, it doesn’t seem to make much difference where the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) places the Tucson powerhouse.  The results don’t vary much.

The Blue Devils won the state championship when they were competing in D-I during the 2017-18 season.  And then won two more titles competing at the D-Ii level the last two years.

Sunnyside, the state’s most dominant wrestling program over the last 30 years, has been bouncing around between divisions over the last decade while breaking in a new head coach.  When Anthony Leon took over the program from Bobby DeBerry after the 2011-12 season, the AIA moved the Devils from D-I to D-II and the program finished in fourth place at the state tournament, the first time in more than 30 years that the storied program had posted anything lower than a third-place finish.

DeBerry became a legend in the sport when he won 15 state titles in 17 years as the Sunnyside head coach.  He took over a program that had already built a reputation as a state power after winning eight consecutive wrestling titles in the 80’s under head coach Don Klostreich and then five straight under his successor, Richard Sanchez, who turned it over to DeBerry.

The Blue Devils were moved back up to D-I for the 2012-13 season and wasted no time in re-establishing their role as state champion.

However, after that title win eight yeas ago, Leon dealt with a stretch of frustration as the Blue Devils endured four straight D-I runner-up finishes before taking the title back in 2017-18.

And now they face one of their biggest challenges in recent years.  They will have to get past Liberty High School to notch a fourth straight championship.  The Peoria school has won the last two D-I state titles while Sunnyside was competing in Division II.

Both schools are deep in talent.  The Blue Devils will be putting five state champions from last season on the mat and the Lions return two state champions.

Both schools were dominant in winning last year’s titles.  Sunnyside piled up 277.5 team points for the D-II title, light years ahead of runner-up Mountain View HS (Marana) which tallied 176 points.  The Blue Devils’ 277.5 total is the third-most in Arizona prep wrestling history.

Liberty won the D-I team title with 228 points, well ahead of Yumas’s Cibola HS which collected 173 for runner-up.

If the COVID-19 virus doesn’t derail the season before it gets to the state tournament, we could have a really interesting showdown for this year’s D-I title.