When you send 11 wrestlers to the state tournament, there are bound to be some bad draws to go with the good, so the Page Sand Devils are looking forward to pulling off upsets while competing for titles.
“We're looking to upset some people this weekend," said Sand Devils head coach Kyran Keisling, who is sending the largest group of his coaching career to the tournament. "We are going to go down there and upset some people, that is our mantra.”
Coconino Panthers assistant coach Mike Schmieder liked what he saw when he got a look at the matchups his four state contenders received.
"Just looking at the bracket, I feel good about their draws," Schmieder said. "One of the good things about coming out of a tough section, I think for our guys, those first-round matches can be pretty easy because we come from a tough schedule.”
The Division III tournament begins Friday, and both teams will look to put wrestlers at the top of the podium after both came up short of the goal last season. Additionally, the Flagstaff Eagles will have one wrestler on the D-III mats in Easten Skinner, and the Northland Prep Spartans are sending Huston Jackson and Zack Bivens to the D-IV tournament, which also takes place at the Prescott Event Center and begins Friday.
Of the four schools, only Page's Kameron Whitewater, a 106-pounder, is entering the weekend as a No. 1 seed in his weight class. The senior takes an impressive 45-1 record into his final state meet and is coming off of big first-place finishes at the Doc Wright and Section Four tournaments.
Keisling said it's championship or bust for Whitewater, who has been on a course for gold ever since finishing in third place a year ago. Whitewater this season was matched up with Thunderbird's Daniel Orzopeda, the 16th seed, who owns a 14-21 record.
Pedro Billups, who will makes a return to the 106-pound bracket for Coconino as a sophomore, landed the sixth seed, setting him up to take on a Marcos De Niza wrestler ranked 11th with an 11-5 record. Cayden Fordyce, Coconino's heavyweight who just won a section title, earned the highest ranking for his team as the No. 3 seed. Meanwhile, for the Panthers, Brandon Barreras got the No. 10 seed for 160 pounds and Philip Flores received the No. 13 seed for 170 pounds.
Flores will meet No. 4-seeded Dominick Carrillo of Pueblo, who recently won a Section One title. Page's 170-pounder, 10th-seeded Kimball Begay, will start with Walden Grove's Ricardo Avelar, the seventh seed.
Schmieder and Keisling both emphasized the importance of the first round.
"They are huge. We talked about it all week," Schmieder said. "So many favorites get upset in the first rounds due to nerves, mistakes. It's an underdog's paradise."
Keisling doesn't like to bracket watch, but acknowledged that wrestlers can make a tough start turn into a successful run.
“What looks like a bad draw in the beginning might turn out to be a good draw in the end,” Keisling said.
Last season, Page sent nine wrestlers to states and finished seventh as a team, but the squad failed to bring in an individual title, continuing a drought that started in 2010 as two wrestlers came in as runner-ups. For Coconino, last season ended without an individual gold, snapping a streak of four straight years producing a top wrestler.
Along with Whitewater, Page seniors Christian Penrod, Myran Bryant, Dorian Daw, Taylor Nez and Levi Telshaw will look to make Saturday's rounds and put Page back on top of a weight class podium. They will be joined by freshman Zachary Ruiz, sophomore Kaleb June, and juniors Joseph Stansfield and Hayden Gracia.
Despite having a mixed bag of experience in his 11 wrestlers, Keisling said they should all be set to move up the rounds after putting in 100 percent effort in and outside the wrestling room.
“I am just the cheerleader now. I’ve dropped the mic, now it’s them. I can only be at the side of the mat to motivate them,” he said.