Senior-dominated Mountain Ridge wrestling sets lofty goals
They grew up and went to camps together, learned from Class of 2014 as freshmen, took their lumps as sophomores and made waves at state as juniors.
In the next two weeks, the Mountain Ridge wrestling Class of 2017 wants to leave its mark on program history.
Seniors Brendon Kaufman (195 pounds), Parker Reiser (Heavyweight) and Nathan Suwyn (170 pounds) should make, and be factors in, their third straight Division I state tournament. Classmates Drake Fineberg (152 pounds), Carson Jeffrey (160 pounds) and Hayden Graham (182 pounds) broke through as seniors.
“When that big senior group left, they basically took over as sophomores. They’ve been right there, knocking on the door for the last couple years,” Mountain Ridge wrestling Coach Corey Whitten said.
Suwyn was the first to break out, placing fifth at 160 pounds as a sophomore and second at 170 pounds last year.
That is no surprise, as he is part of the first family in Mountain Ridge wrestling. Older brothers Nick (2010) and Mike (2013) claimed state titles in their junior years.
Even with that pedigree, Nathan Suwyn said it took experience for he and his classmates to gain belief in their abilities.
“I think the biggest thing these last three years has just been getting the confidence and mental breakthroughs. That’s the last bit that I need to get through for sectionals and state,” Suwyn said.
Kaufman was the other senior that stood out as a sophomore, winning a state match at 170 pounds.
He would often pair off with Suwyn in practice. Matching up with each other raised the others’ skill levels.
“We want to see each other succeed, so we’re willing to push each other that much harder,” Kaufman said. “There will be times where me and Nathan will be wrestling and we’ll slam each other into the walls because we’re not doing it right. We expect a lot from each other.”
Kaufman jumped to 195 pounds after wrestling at 160 last year, so he matches up with Suwyn less than in the past. Jeffrey is up to 160 this year and draws that assignment more often.
Jeffrey has been the breakthrough wrestler this season, winning at Holbrook and placing third at the large Moon Valley tournament. Working more with Suwyn accelerated his development.
“He’s 10 pounds heavier than me so when I wrestle someone 10 pounds lighter on the mat it makes it a lot easier. No one’s going to be tougher than the runner up in state,” Jeffrey said.
Fineberg showed signs last year and is making a similar senior splash as Jeffrey. Now at 152 pounds, the senior won the Holbrook tournament and finished second at the Jan. 21 at Brad Jones “Pack” Invitational at Centennial.
Graham was injured most of last year. Graham also won the Holbrook tournament and just won at Centennial.
District rival Boulder Creek will host the Section I tournament Saturday Feb. 4. The Jaguars, Phoenix Horizon and other district rival O’Connor have solid teams.
But Yuma Cibola is the main obstacle to a team sectional title and a good gauge for how the mountain Lions might do at state.
“They’re a top three team in the state coming into our section. We have a very tough, competitive section. It’s going to be a battle getting our kids into state,” Coach Whitten said.
He said six to eight kids should qualify, if healthy. Mountain Ridge was without some of its top wrestlers due to injury and illness at the Peoria Invitational.
If the expected wrestlers get to state, five or six have a good shot at placing. Coach Whtten said there are two or three weights that lack clear-cut favorites.
Reiser’s heavyweight class is a good example and he is one of the favorites after placing fifth at 220 pounds last year. Mountain Ridge placed 11th in Division I in 2016 and the coach said this team should improve on that.
“We’ve actually gotten to the point where we’re not being overlooked anymore. It’s not like, ‘Oh it’s a West Side school.’ It’s like, ‘It’s Mountain Ridge. We’ve got to be ready.’ We’ve earned that respect across Division I,” Coach Whitten said.
His seniors have set an even more ambitious goal. Suwyn said the program is capable of its first top finish at state, Feb. 10-11 in Prescott Valley.
To do so, the Mountain Lions will have to slip past one of the following perennial powers — Chandler, Tempe Corona del Sol, Mesa Mountain View, Tucson Sunnyside or Cibola.
“We’re going for top five (at state). Hopefully we can win sectionals if we all come ready to wrestle,” Reiser said.