Watching Kamron Whitewater and Hayden Gracia wrestle is like watching method and madness.
Despite the differences in how they approach the mat, the two Page Sand Devils ended the Division III state tournament with the same result on Saturday: a title.
Whitewater, Page's 106-pound senior, and Gracia, the team's 145-pound junior, put an end to an eight-year drought of coming up short of a champion wrestler. On the way to taking the top of the podium, the two combined for five pins and 56.5 points, helping the Sand Devils take sixth place as a team with a total of 103.5 points.
"Poetry, it was wrestling poetry," Sand Devils head coach Kyran Keisling said of Whitewater's season. "They kid wrestled a flawless season, I don’t know that he made a mistake this season. He never gave up a back point, a near fall point. It was amazing to watch him. He’s a technical wrestler, he knows every move that we coach in our room and then learns more from watching college and tech videos. He is never in a loss in any given situation.”
The only thing standing between Whitewater and his first-ever state gold medal was Coconino's Pedro Billup, the stud sophomore who grinded his way to the first-place match to improve on a state performance from a year ago. The seasoned senior, who entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed in his weight class, bested the young Panthers wrestler by a technical fall, 16-1.
"He had a great run," Panthers assistant coach Mike Schmieder said of Billups. "Kamron Whitewater is just an amazing wrestler, he's really something. He's wrestled Pedro a few times and I think he understands where Pedro's strengths and weaknesses are, so it doesn't bode well for us."
Keisling said Whitewater is always thinking two moves ahead of his opponent, whereas Gracia is always ready to explode and change the momentum of a match.
Whitewater went through his two days at the tournament recording a team-high 29.5 points courtesy of three straight pins and the tech fall that clinched the title. Gracia provided his team 27 points on a decision, major decision and two pins, the second of which came in the first-place round against the weight classes' fifth seed, Walden Grove's Evan Killgore.
Gracia started his title run off Friday with a pin and a 19-8 major decision victory before winning his semifinal match by a 9-2 decision against the No. 2 seed and his finals bout by a pin in 5:19.
“He’s explosive and dynamic, he is the exact opposite of Kamron," Keisling said of Gracia. "He does something wrong, but then will have the opponent on his back. Unpredictable and very fun to watch.“
Whitewater and Billups weren't the only Page and Coconino wrestlers to lock horns on Saturday for a medal.
Coconino senior Brandon Barreras made the podium for a sixth-place finish at 160 pounds, beating Page's Dorian Daw by a 7-3 decision.
The Panthers finished 19th as a team with 30.5 points.
"One of the things Jim (Popham) and I are most proud of is putting wrestlers on the mat who can compete with the best in the state," Schmieder said. "We look at our record all the time over how many kids we put in the state finals and Pedro is the 12th wrestler we've put in the finals in the last 10 years. We are proud of that and he is keeping our tradition alive."
Page, which sent 11 total wrestlers to the tourney, got a fourth-place finish from Christian Penrod at 138 pounds. Overall, Page had 10 of its 11 reach the second day.
Whitewater ended his stellar season with his goal reached and a 49-1 record. Before getting to the state tournament, the lightweight won the Doc Wright Invitational in mid-January and then was the Section Four champ just a week ago.
Although he also won at the section tournament, Coconino's Cayden Fordyce ran into trouble early at the state meet, falling victim in the opening round to David Leasau's deadly headlock that got him to a fourth-place finish as a heavyweight. Fordyce ended his first trip to the state meet mats with a finish in the round of 12.
Schmieder said it was a great experience for the junior in understanding how important each match of the tournament is.
In fact, two other heavyweights learned that as the fight for first place came down to a decisive match of the big boys. Yuma's 285-pounder, Oscar Vega, won by fall over Malik Clark of Moon Valley to push his team to first place at 170 points, edging out Walden Grove's 169.5 finish.
Billups battled for his silver, outlasting two top wrestlers before running into Whitewater. On Friday, Billups won in OT on a sudden victory, using his escape and energy -- which his opponent lacked toward the end of the bout -- to advance and knock the No. 3 seed into the consultation bracket. On Saturday, he took out the No. 2 seed, rallying to win the match 9-8 on a takedown with just seconds to go.
ALSO ON THE MATS
Flagstaff's Easten Skinner, the lone Eagles wrestler to make the D-III state tourney at 132 pounds, reached Saturday's round but fell short of a medal.
For the D-IV Northland Prep Spartans, who also were competing at the Prescott Valley Event Center, Huston Jackson and Zack Bivens both went 1-2.