Tucson Sunnyside and the phrase “Arizona Boys State Wrestling Team Champion” have become increasingly common. synonymous since 1979.
The Blue Devils accomplished it again on Saturday, winning the 2021 Division I State Tournament at Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley.
The Division I tournament was the last day of state tournament competitions at this venue, consisting of Division IV on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as Division III and II on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Sunnyside’s victory marks their fourth consecutive state team title and their 34th overall in school history. The Southern Arizona program began that streak in 2018 while in Division I before moving to Division II for the previous two seasons and then returning to D-1 this year.
The Blue Devils won the state scoring 198 team points over runner-up Liberty, who scored 166.5 points. Phoenix Desert Vista was third (113.5), Mesa Desert Ridge was fourth (98) and Cibola fifth (92.5).
Sunnyside, Liberty and Desert Ridge tied for sending a division I-high 13 state qualifiers to state sections on March 13, in which the The Blue Devils also won the Division I Section I tag team title.. Four of Sunnyside’s 13 were defending individual state champions entering the tournament, and nine who placed state. Three individual champions in the weights 113, 160 and 182 and six more who did not place below fifth place summed up the Blue Devil’s nine who reached the podium.
“We managed to escape danger and almost assured defeat to ultimately pin Liberty,” said Sunnyside head coach Anthony Leon. “All 13 wrestlers did a great job.”
Liberty had two individual state winners and six more to rank, which gave Sunnyside a tough task to secure the lead in the opening laps. In two moments in the middle of the afternoon, Sunnyside was leading just 135 to 123.5 ahead of Liberty, then 151 to 132.5 the next.
The Lions’ two state winners beat wrestlers from Sunnyside, including undefeated youngster Michael Trujillo against James Brown in the 120 and junior Tyler Sauter against sophomore Mike Avelar in the 152, both by major decision (5-2 , 6-3, respectively).
The first 170 consolation rounds, 160 and 182 league games were crucial for Sunnyside to win the state.
“We have all 13 wrestlers tagged, but I can point to a 170-fight first round match that swayed the momentum of the tournament,” said Leon.
Sunnyside senior Richard Escalante pinned Liberty senior Willie Brooks in the 170 consolation first round, before Escalante was pinned by Marana junior Troy Fox in the consolation semi-final.
Reigning and undefeated two-time senior champion Sebastian Robles, who has gone from 145 to 160 this season, beat Liberty senior Marcus Murabito in that final decision weight, 7-4.
It was the turning point in the championship that created a greater separation between Sunnyside and Liberty in the standings.
“At the start of my championship game, I was convinced that I was prepared mentally and physically,” said Robles. “Coach Leon always says ‘stay prepared so you don’t have to prepare.'”
Rene Fragoso, a Sunnyside junior and two-time state finalist, has achieved his personal redemption after falling in the 152 Division II title game last season. He sealed the team’s victory by beating Mesa Skyline senior Alex Sanchez in the 182.
“It feels good to win a state title after losing last year,” said Fragoso. “I thought about how I felt when I lost that game, and that motivated me to do my best every day because I wasn’t going to feel that way anymore.”
The only quadruple state champion in the Division I state championship was Chandler’s undefeated senior Zach Espalin. He ended his high school career by winning the 126.
Here’s the list of this year’s Division I individual state champions by weight class, followed by those who placed second, and their doubles records this season:
Damien Moreno, Yuma Kofa, So. (19-0); Alexander Sweeney, Desert Ridge, So. (15-2)
James Armstrong, Sunnyside, so. (12-0); Tim Murabito, Liberty, Fr., (19-1)
Michael Trujillo, Liberty, Fr., (18-0); James Brown, Sunnyside, Sr (11-1)
Zach Espalin, Chandler, sire (13-0); Noah Kasprowicz, Anthem Boulder Creek, Sr (13-5)
Damen Miller, Desert Vista, So, (18-0); Dante Oliverio, Phoenix Horizon, Sr. (19-1)
Mourece Ramirez, Desert Vista, Sr. (19-0); Carson Coy, Liberty, Jr. (18-1)
Johnny Sierra, Yuma Cibola, Sr. (16-0); Jaime Rivera, Sunnyside, Jr. (13-1)
Tyler Sauter, Liberty, Jr., (12-3); Mike Avelar, Sunnyside, so. (9-2)
Sebastian Robles, Sunnyside, Sr. (12-0); Marcus Murabito, Liberty, Sr. (18-2)
Gunnar Luke, Mesa Mountain View, Jr. (20-0); Caleb Milnes, Gilbert Perry, father (14-4)
René Fragoso, Sunnyside, Jr. (12-0); Alex Sanchez, Mesa Skyline, Sr., (20-1)
Elijah Sobas, Chandler Hamilton, Sr. (19-0); Kaiden Cisneros, Mesa, Jr. (16-3)
William Durbin, Mesa Dobson, Jr (12-0); Nathaniel Deasey, Chandler, Sr. (13-1)
Liam Hoffmeyer, Cibola, Sr. (15-0); Jacob Moore, Boulder Creek, father (18-1)
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