Christian Riordan has written the words, has put in the work against some of the best wrestlers in the state of Arizona and has finally started to believe he belongs.
The hope is it will pay off with a breakthrough performance in North Dakota.
Riordan, a senior at Mesa High, is one of more than 50 wrestlers from Arizona, including eight from the Mesa school district, headed to the Cadet and Junior National Championships in freestyle and Greco Roman July 14-22 in Fargo, N.D.
While most wrestlers headed to Fargo have a long list of accomplishments, Riordan is still looking for his signature moment.
He is a talented wrestler, but struggles in the defining moments. He tends to lose tight matches and has never placed in a high school tournament.
“During my matches, I’ll be doing good and have a chance against some really good wrestlers, but then they’d get the takedown and I get down (mentally),” he said. “I’d think, ‘I can’t win.’ Then I’d lose and feel worse.
“With the Fargo training I am working with the top kids in the state right now and going live with these kids has me stronger mentally than I have ever been.”
Mesa coach David DiDomenico recognized long ago that the only thing holding his 126-pounder back was the negativity between his ears. His plan for Riordan’s offseason could be spelled out on a 3-by-5-inch index card.
“I told him to compete,” DiDomenico said. “My whole thing with him is it is not about technique. He has that down. It is belief. This offseason I had him write two words on a 3-by-5 card – ‘I CAN.’
“He is talented and knows position, and technique. Anytime a match is close he doesn’t believe he should win so something happens and he loses. For Fargo, I told him go and compete. Go for it. From my research, it isn’t just one win or a switch. It is a feeling in your soul good things happen for me; I earned and worked for those good things to happen so I keep scrambling and fighting until the clock runs out and you win.”
Winning is something Team Arizona has done more and more of in Fargo as the years have passed, especially in recent years after the high school coaches from around the state started to forego their allegiances during the offseason to help the state improve as a whole.
The 2016 event saw 13 wrestlers from Arizona earn 15 All-American honors and finished fifth in the Cadet Greco team standings with six All-Americans. Team AZ also had another top 10 finish as the Junior freestyle team finished eighth with four All-Americans.
The 2017 team might have a difficult time matching that level of success but a handful of Mesa area wrestlers will take their chances in the Fargodome.
The goal for every wrestler headed to Fargo is to come back with the octagon-shaped plaque, known as stop signs, given to those All-Americans (top eight).
The bigger the better.
Mountain View’s Stefana Jelecic hopes to upgrade this year after finishing third in freestyle at 108 pounds while the Toros send five other wrestlers as well.
Bowen Doolen (132 pounds) and Jonathan Garcia (220) will compete at the older Junior level, while Bradley Basgall (113), Braxton Luke (138), Wayne Dunn (170) and Jeremiah Hollen (182) will wrestle in the Cadet Division.
Hollen, who finished second in the state at 195 pounds during the school year as a sophomore, feels like he will have a chance to make it to the second day with hopes of finding the podium after coming up short last summer in Fargo.
“My goal is to win Greco and be an All-American in freestyle,” Hollen said. “I’m a second-year Cadet and this should be my year. I’ve worked hard. It’s a huge tournament and I want to go out and compete. Last year, I was more focused on football and didn’t prepare like I have this time.”
It includes working this week with Desert Vista two-time state champion and incoming Arizona State freshman Chad Porter, who pinned Holler in the 195-pound 6A Conference state finals in February.
“He’s a great wrestler and working with him only makes me better,” Hollen said. “We have different styles but he is so strong. It’s going to prepare me for Fargo because no one I face there is better than him.”
Red Mountain had two Cadet wrestlers qualify in Cody Foote (145) and Julius Thomas (182), but only Foote is making the trip.
The experience gained at one of the nation’s most prestigious wrestling events can take individuals to new heights that could pay dividends during the high school season this winter.
“Being a member of the AZ National Team that competes in Fargo provides many great opportunities,” Red Mountain coach Kyle Hare said. “The boys are practicing with the best wrestlers in the state in preparation to compete with the best in the country. They learn how to train and compete at a high level, from great coaches.
“It has an impact on our high school program when these wrestlers return and bring that attitude and mentality back to our practice room and helps support what we preach.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.