Coming off a performance that saw three Hawks — then-juniors Spencer Jasper and Ryan Becerra and departed senior Ty Porter, the 2004-05 Tribune wrestler of the year — win individual state titles, Highland won its third state title in 11 seasons last year, capturing the 5A crown.
But if the Hawks want to repeat as champs this season, coach Abel Figueroa will need his entire team to help get them there.
For the first time this year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association has implemented a dual-meet format to decide the state champion. Teams will now compete against each other in complete dual meets, rather than by just collective scores at the state individual tournament.
Corona del Sol coach Dave Vibber said he doesn’t think the state has seen the last of the former method, however.
"We’d probably have more coaches that would like to continue to see a team score at the individual tournament as well," Vibber said, adding that the 5A Conference originally proposed to award a trophy at both tournaments.
"It’s going to be interesting, but I think it’s going to be good for Arizona," Figueroa said, adding that other states have had success deciding state titles this way.
"It’s so hard to say because we’ve never done it before in Arizona."
Ryan Becerra and Spencer Jasper, Highland: Both seniors, Becerra (152 pounds) and Jasper (125 pounds) give Highland two of three individual 5A state champions returning this year. Spencer Jackson, Mountain View: The senior is the defending East Valley Region champion at 135 pounds and finished second last year at 5A state meet.
Cory Hale, Corona del Sol: Defending 5A state champion at 171 pounds will try to earn another title in the 189-pound class this season as a senior. Gabe Gomez, Tempe: Finished 33-4 last season en route to the 4A individual title in the 112-pound weight class as a junior. Cesar Meraz, Mesa: The senior will compete at either 135 or 140 pounds, taking over a leadership role for the Jackrabbits this season.
OTHERS TO WATCH*
Vincent Bradley, McClintock, So., 103; Tony Covert, Mountain View, Jr., 103; Jack Porter, Desert Vista, Sr., 152; Greg Carbajal, Red Mountain, Jr., 112; Justin Castillo, Mountain View, Sr., 145; Mark Franklin, Desert Vista, Sr., 135; Robert Holbrock, Corona del Sol, Sr., 215; Preston Pico, Mountain View, Jr., 152; Chris Galvan, Red Mountain, So., 119; Ryan Hoover, Hamilton, Sr., 171; Dorian Smith, Basha, Sr., 275; Kyle McMinn, Apache Junction, So., 103; Tod Workman, Queen Creek, So., 119; Xavier Ramirez, Apache Junction, So., 130; Patrick Danjcek, Notre Dame Prep, Sr., 140
*Weight classes are from last season
DID YOU KNOW
Up and down: Tucson Sunnyside has won a staggering 23 state titles since 1979. A dozen have come in 5A, with the other 11 at the 4A level. After winning the past six 4A titles, the Blue Devils are back at the 5A level this season. Triple duty: A trio of wrestlers finished last season unbeaten. Mesa’s Anthony Robles (103 pounds) and Alberto Montes (189) finished their careers with 46-0 and 45-0 marks, respectively, while Corona del Sol’s Cory Hale finished 24-0 after missing half the season with a broken wrist. Only Hale returns this year.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Marcos de Niza: The Padres return a pair of contenders in Roy Rojas (215 pounds) and Richard Hernandez (275 pounds) while trying to return to the form that saw Jim Weed’s team win three consecutive 5A crowns prior to last season.
Highland: The Hawks lose 2005 Tribune wrestler of the year Ty Porter to graduation but still have another pair of defending individual champions returning. Highland will also have the services of 103-pounder Nick Mills, who won a title at last year’s Nevada state championships before moving to Arizona.
Basha: Now at the 5A level, Basha, led by junior Keith Taylor (215 pounds), joins Corona del Sol and Marcos de Niza, among others, in the Central Region, arguably the toughest region in the state.
Entire 4A field? With Tucson Sunnyside moving back up to the 5A ranks this season, applications are now being accepted for any 4A team to take over the top spot vacated by the Blue Devils.
No current 4A team has won a title at that level since Tucson Desert View won three straight from 1987-89.
Dec. 16-17: State’s best 4A teams converge in Tempe for showcase event at McClintock Invitational
Jan. 13-14: Corona del Sol hosts the Valley’s cream of the crop at the annual Aztec Duals
Jan. 23-28: Region tournaments
Feb. 3-11: State tournaments