Stepping into a wrestling room takes a tolerance for heat, an ability to ignore some odd smells and courage to stick around.
It is a sport that is not for everybody, but those who do choose to stay seemingly never lose the love of the sport and want to share the virtues it develops with those who have stuck it out.
It’s one of the few sports where former athletes at the school can return to practice and compete against the current wrestlers. They want to pass on what they’ve learned, and can do so directly by stepping back into the wrestling room.
The coaches of the sport are among the tightest fraternities you’ll find at the high school level. They know what it takes to sacrifice to be a champion and the commitment doesn’t change as coaches.
It brings a passion from the guys who are in the wrestler’s corner during a match and off in the years that follow.
“We expect excellence from our kids both on the mat and off,” Mountain View coach Corey Anderson said. “Our outlook is always the same as we are focusing on trying to get every kid in the program to perform to their very best all of the time. Probably seems like a pretty generic answer, but the process is not generic. It is hard.
“It takes a lot of evaluation and monitoring with many tweaks being necessary. It is the same for the wrestlers. That process is tough, and every day is difficult, so that really wears on kids.”
Some teams are in transition, but the coaches are willing to do everything to return to that elite level.
“These next two seasons are pivotal to creating the standard of a championship self-efficacy and high accountability of complete overall performance in all aspects with teammates,” Mesa coach David DiDomenico said. “They need to learn how to work extra for themselves and that internal drive to win. We are working to tap into the strong tradition of Mesa High wrestlers so that the current team understands it is now their turn to carry the torch on the long-standing tradition of Mesa High Wrestling success.”
It brings back someone like Nick Karantinos, who stepped away almost a decade ago, but now brings his Hall of Fame experience back into the Red Mountain wrestling room while being able to coach his sons.
“We are largely young and unproven,” Karantinos said. “However, there is a high level of energy and commitment to carry on the tradition of Red Mountain. Although we are young we have key leadership setting the tone.”
Here is a look at how area teams look at the start of the season:
Coach: Travis Jackson
Returning state placers: Alex Wood (120) finished third; Christian Mederios (220) fifth place in 2016/
Tournaments: Coyote Open at Skyline (Dec. 8-9); Blackford Duals at ASU (Dec. 27-28); Peoria Invitational (Dec. 5-6)
Comment/Notes: The Jaguars finished 11th at the state tournament last year after qualifying a school-record 11 for the tournament. … Returning state qualifiers are Everett Gomez (113), Trey Pacheco (126), Michael Guliano (152), Cody Lewis (160), Dillon Stevenson (170), Jacob Wright (182) and Bailey Young (HVY). … The next meet for the Jaguars is a quad at Red Mountain with Dobson and Mesa.
Coach: Don Mabry, fourth season
Returning state placers: None.
Tournaments: Coyote Open at Skyline (Dec. 8-9), Moon Valley Invite (Dec. 22-23), Peoria Invite (Dec. 5-6), Demon Classic at Dysart (Jan. 12-13), Firebird Invitational at Chaparral (Jan. 19-20).
Comment/Notes: Paul Alvarado (126) is the only returning state qualifier from last season. … Mabry is a member of Phoenix Union Hall of Fame after a stellar career at Alahambra where he was a four-time state place, three-time finalist and two-time state champion (1977 and 1978). Ended his career with four Arizona records (career win, career pins, career takedowns, season takedowns). … The team finished 26th at the state tournament last season and 21st in 2016 after a couple of top 10 finishes the previous two years. … Opened the season with a 73-6 loss to Desert Vista.
Coach: Dave DiDomenico, second year
Returning state placers: None
Tournaments: Moon Valley Invitational (Dec. 22/23), Blackford Duals at ASU (Dec. 27/28), Doc Wright Invitational (Jan. 12-13)
Comment/Notes: The Jackrabbits begin the year with no state experience among returning letterman. … Senior Christian Riordan competed at Fargo over the summer. .. Junior Danny Armas is so advanced in his academics that he will graduate this year. … The room has 54 underclassmen that will be the backbone of the program as the Jackrabbits try to get back to a more competitive level. “We are increasing understanding of work ethic, accountability, and learning how to compete,” DiDomenico said. “We have a hard working, top level teaching staff working with our athletes to assist in academic success.” … Opened the season going 2-1 in a tri-meet, beating Westwood and Rincon but lost to Sandra Day O’Connor by one point.
Coach: Corey Anderson, second year
Returning state placers: Jeremiah Hollen, second place, 195; Hunter Richards, fifth place, 106
Tournaments: Coyote Open at Skyline (Dec. 8-9), Blackford Duals at ASU (Dec. 27-28), Peoria Tournament of Champions (Jan. 5-6), Brad Jones Pack Invite at Centennial (Jan. 19-20).
Comment/Notes: The Toros have two other state qualifiers in Bowen Doolen and John Garcia (220). … Hollen has been an All-American in the freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines several times. … The Toros finished in the top five for the fifth straight year last season. … The second year of coach’s tenure is always easier, and Anderson is pushing for even more this time around. “There is a lot of young kids that want to do well in our program,” he said. “I guess people see that as a negative more than a strength, but we feel like that brings energy to the room and that is what is needed to keep kids upbeat and positive. We feel like the effort has been really good and when kids are expending maximum effort good things are going to happen often.” … Open the year with easy wins over Valley Vista and Mountain Ridge. Travels to Boulder Creek for a tri-meet that includes Copper Canyon on Nov. 29.
Coach: Nick Karantinos, first year
Returning state placers: Two-time placer Alex Karantinos (126), fifth last season.
Tournaments: Nate Johnson Duals (Dec. 1-2), Blackford Duals at ASU (Dec. 27-28), Flowing Wells Invite (Jan. 12-13), Tim Van Horn Invite at Payson (Jan. 19-20).
Comment/Notes: The Mountain Lions bring back three other state qualifiers looking to make the podium this year in Braeden Howey (182), Anthony Cutlip (220), Zach Karantinos (132). … Coach Karantinos returns to the program after previously coaching from 1989 to 2007. He was recently inducted to the Arizona Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He replaces Kyle Hare and is now an assistant at Queen Creek. …
Coach: KC Weitman, third season
Returning state placers: None.
Tournaments: Host Coyote Open (Dec. 8-9), Marana Mountain View Duals (Dec. 15-16), Prospector Invitational at Apache Junction (Jan. 17-18).
Comment/Notes: Matt Martinez (106) is the only returning state qualifier. … Weitman is a Red Mountain graduate. … Skyline finished 10th at the state tournament last season after moving back to Division I. The Coyotes were 20th the year before in Division II. … The Coyotes host Trevor Browne, North and Tolleson on Nov. 29.
Coach: Aaron Decker
Returning state placer: Mathew Eager (HVY) placed fifth.
Tournaments: Liberty Classic (Dec. 1-2), Moon Valley Invite (Dec. 22-23), High Mile Challenge (Dec. 29-30), Peoria Invite (Jan. 5-6), Brad Jones Pack Invite at Centennial (Jan. 19-20).
Comment/Notes: Chris Boyle (106) is a returning state qualifier. … Westwood finished 21st at the state meet last season in Division I after failing to score any points the previous year. … The Warriors travel to San Luis on Nov. 29 for a quad that includes Horizon and Cibola. … The Warriors last state champion was Austin Moyer in 2015 at 160.
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.