Higley wrestling coach Darren Johnson knew what awaited his team last year when the Knights traveled to Minnesota for a tournament. The bitter cold of a Minnesota winter is something that must be experienced to be believed and the Knights got a good taste of it.
"One of our guys didn’t want to leave the airport," Johnson said of last year’s visit. "One of them said, ‘How do you live in this?’ but we did brave it and got out and had a snowball fight."
The Knights are headed back to Minnesota on Thursday and they will compete in the 19th annual Minnesota Christmas Tournament on Friday and Saturday in Rochester, Minn., before returning home on Sunday.
Last year, Higley competed in a different tournament in Minnesota called The Clash, which featured a team dual-meet format. This year’s event is an individual tournament with 32 teams from five states competing. At The Clash, Higley did not win one dual meet, but Johnson thinks his team could find some success this year.
"I think some of our guys have a shot to medal," Johnson said. "I have four kids who should get seeded and could do well."
Those four are Robert Montano, who is 8-0 at 215 pounds, Kyle Lebtich (6-2 at 160), Andrew Roper (6-2 at 152) and Mario Castro (6-2 at heavyweight).
Johnson, who grew up in Minnesota and attended Rochester Community College (where the tournament is being held) and the University of Minnesota-Mankato, said the trip is something his team benefits greatly from and he wants to do it every year if his team can continue to raise the funds each year.
"When I first started thinking about taking these trips it was because I wanted to put our guys against the best in the nation. Not just go to Minnesota, but to try to raise the level of wrestling in our program," Johnson said. "We had some kids take some lumps there last year, but if you could have seen their improvement, it was worth it."
Central Region is basketball central: The 5A Central Region is made up of just five schools, but when the boys teams tangle in region play next month there will be a barnburner or two every night.
The top-ranked team in 5A Division I is Corona del Sol at 8-0. Mountain Pointe is 5-0 with an impressive win over Laveen Cesar Chavez its latest conquest. Lightning-quick Desert Vista is 8-1, with its only loss to southern Arizona’s best 5A team, Sierra Vista Buena. Throw in Marcos de Niza, which is 4-1, and young Basha (3-5), and there is much anticipation.
‘‘It’s the toughest region in the state,’’ Marcos de Niza coach Dave Stark said. ‘‘Corona is talented and deep and they deserve to be No. 1 right now. Desert Vista is quick and Mountain Pointe is off to a great start. We compete with them even though we’re in Division II. We’ll have some losses but we know we will have been tested by the time the playoffs come around.’’
Toros play waiting game: It’s been somewhat of a rough start for defending 5A boys champ Mountain View, given an injury to center Harper Kamp, a light schedule and inexperience.
Kamp is on the mend entering the season’s fourth week and is starting to practice lightly, but he likely won’t be ready to play until late this month when the Toros (3-1) participate in the McClintock Holiday Shootout Dec. 27-30.
Feeling their way into the lineup this season are seniors Spencer Kindt, Ryan Seymour, Vaughn Compton and junior Justin Wesolowski. The three seniors do not have significant varsity experience.
Corrections: A story in Sunday’s Tribune should have listed Hamilton linebacker Gerald Munns at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds.
Another story in Sunday’s paper should have said Mesa wrestler Joseph Loera went undefeated in the Warrior Classic tournament last weekend, earning alltournament team honors. Loera is 14-0 this season.