The hunter is now the hunted, but Tempe Corona del Sol enters the 2009-10 prep wrestling season well armed.
The Aztecs ended Mesa’s three-year run as 5A-I team champion, beating the Jackrabbits in a memorable 26-25 final. That was a going away present for longtime Aztecs coach Dave Vibber, who retired after 30 seasons. Vibber hadn’t won an official team title in his previous 29 years.
But Vibber has left and taken his 403 career dual victories with him. Now it’s Jim Martinez’s turn to guide a talented group of wrestlers that includes three defending state champions.
Corona del Sol is stacked at the upper weights, starting with Ryan Cox at 140 and then going through a “Murderer’s Row” from 152 to the heavyweight class. Ryan Miller at 152 is a defending state champion, Blake Ortiz at 160 won 45 matches; Derek Felton went 53-0 at 171 last year; Sam Fulton (189) was sixth at state; Simon Allen (215) won 32 matches; and Mike Howard (Hwt.) was state champion.
With that lineup, the Aztecs are the clear favorites in 5A-I, but will be chased once again by Mesa, Mesa Red Mountain, Mesa Mountain View, Phoenix Desert Vista and Phoenix Brophy.
In 5A-II, Tucson Sunnyside, which has won 10 straight team titles, is once again the team to beat, but Tempe Marcos de Niza returns a solid squad, led by defending champion Aaron Pavlenko. The Padres will be a bit behind the rest of the 5A-II contenders as several of their key wrestlers, including Pavlenko, are part of the football team that advanced to the 5A-II state championship game.
In 4A-I, Vail Cienega returns eight from its squad that rolled to the team title. In the East Valley, the Desert Sky Region got much tougher with the addition of Queen Creek, which joins strong teams from Tempe McClintock, Apache Junction and Cave Creek Cactus Shadows.
The 4A-II defending team tournament champion Cottonwood Mingus is loaded again and poised to win its fifth straight team title. The Mauraders have 10 wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament back. The East Sky Region is wide open, with Gilbert Higley and Gilbert Williams Field the top contenders to win that region.
In the 3A conference, it’ll take something miraculous to knock off Safford, winners of five straight titles. The Bulldogs have 10 state qualifiers back, including three state champions and two others who were runner-up. In the 1A/2A conferences, it looks like it will be a two-team race between defending champion St. John’s and Camp Verde, who had won the three previous state titles before the Redskins ended that run.