Arizona National Wrestling Team’s boys, girls shoot for more college recruits on national level

Similar to high school basketball players developing their skills and playing in front college scouts at national summer tournaments, high school wrestlers are doing the same on the mat on gym floors for their clubs.

As they sweat profusely and make rooms hotter with their body heat while practicing moves, high school boys and girls wrestlers from the top programs such as Division I state champion Tucson Sunnyside, Peoria Liberty, Division II state titleholders Queen Creek Casteel, Chandler Basha band together for the Arizona National Wrestling Club season to collectively help put Arizona on the national level and for more college wrestling recruitment.

Arizona National Wrestling Team’s Junior Director and Casteel head coach Bob Callison could be relaxing more with his family and taking time before returning to school in August.

Instead, Callison and the coaching staff members Erik Larken, Angel Cejudo, David Pastoriza, Phoenix Desert Vista head coach and the Arizona wrestling state chairman David Gonzales, who oversees the team’s Olympic styles of wrestling, are working on a volunteer basis to help the state’s wrestlers get recognized by recruiters on high school wrestling’s biggest stage in Middle America.

“This is something we do as a service to the state,” Callison said. “We take pride in taking our Arizona wrestlers around to compete nationally.”

Since the Arizona high school winter season ended in March, there have been several tournaments that the state’s youth club teams have entered, came out victorious or staged stellar performances. That includes the Arizona Girls Wresting Club winning a national title, Phoenix Sierra Linda girls wrestling Erica Pastoriza (David’s daughter) becoming the state’s first world wrestling champion and the Arizona National Wrestling Team competing in the 50th annual U.S. Marine Corps 16-Under and Junior Nationals tournament in Fargo, North Dakota in July.

It was the last national tournament of the summer before heading back to school, which occured from July 17-23.

The Arizona National Wrestling Team had a total of 94 wrestlers travel to Fargo, including 16 current boys and girls state champions, 10 of them from Casteel.

“That’s our hugest group that we’ve taken back there, which is kind of crazy after a COVID year,” Callison said. “I guess that’s the case with other states as well. They were taking big teams, so they just want to wanted to get out. And for some of our kids, they haven’t been able to challenge themselves on the national level.”

Similar to the Olympics, the national tournament has both Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling style competitions.

The difference between freestyle and folkstyle (or collegiate style) wrestling is freestyle is more open to free-flowing movement allowed to attack an opponent’s legs and their torso, and exposing an opponent’s back to the mat and gaining points without necessarily holding them down for a pin. The latter style is the wrestler has to hold down their opponent in a controlled position for two seconds toward their back before being considered for a pin. Greco-Roman style prohibits attacking the legs, sweeping or tripping them.

“The transfer over from freestyle to folkstyle like our high school season is really good because most of the action takes place on our feet and, really, a takedown is a takedown. Most of the takedowns that we see in freestyle, we can use them in folkstyle and vice versa. The same actually goes for Greco-Roman which is all upper body. It’s more of a macho style of wrestling. There’s definitely techniques that a lot of it can be used in folkstyle and freestyle as far as the Greco-Roman is concerned.”

The Arizona National Wrestling Team prepared for their trip to Fargo at Phoenix Valiant Prep’s gym, divided between the team’s 78 boys and 26 girls who qualified for the tournament, many of which are on The Republic’s All-Arizona Boys and Girls Team selections.

The team’s state champions include Sunnyside’s James Armstrong and its recent graduate James Brown, Casteel’s brothers Sergio and Mykey Ramos, Marana Mountain View’s Austin Scott, Liberty’s Isabella Bocanegra and The Republic’s 2021 Female Wrestler of the year Nina Sandoval of Gilbert Campo Verde.

Sandoval has qualified three times and competed at the Junior Nationals three times like Brown, but remains uncommitted. Hastings and Minot State, where her brother Alex Sandoval wrestles, have recruited her so far.

“I’ve checked out a couple schools but I haven’t really found one that I feel like is a good fit for me yet,” Sandoval said. “I have the academics, too, so those two put together kind of make a lot of schools keep reaching out.”

The 16U and junior 18U and the girls division at Junior Nationals has been happening for the past 10 years.

Some of the returning girls wrestlers who have previously qualified from the 2019 Arizona girls wrestling national team were Casteel junior Camryn Carter, Valiant Prep’s Genesis Cejudo, Liberty senior and Life University-commit Sarah Schmoker, and Anika Barker and Basha senior Trinity Howard.

The girls were also trained by Valiant Prep wrestling coaches’ staff member Forrest Molinari. She’s a product of college wrestling powerhouse Iowa and is a U.S. Olympic female national team alternate member.

“Being a female coach, I can bring a female perspective than most male coaches can to a women’s team,” Molinari said. “Technically, I’ve got some good stuff from Iowa, I got a lot of good stuff from (Arizona State assistant coach and former Iowa wrestler) Mark Perry who’s my coach, so I’m bringing that in the room. Just a high level technique, a lot of tactics and strategy. When you get to those higher level matches, strategy is very, very important.”

The most All-Americans which Arizona has produced from that tournament was 14 in one year, according to Callison.

Upon returning home after this summer’s 16U and Junior Nationals, the Arizona team ended up with 12. The only All-American girl which the team produced at the tournament was Valiant Prep’s Karlee Brooks who placed seventh in the Junior division’s 106 weight class. The highest finishes among the Arizona All-American boys were first-place finishes by Valiant Prep’s Adrian Meza in the 16U Freestyle’s 120, that division’s Outstanding Wrestler award recipient and 126 winner Kyle Larkin, Davian Guanajuato in the Junior Greco-Roman’s 113, and second-place finishes from Valiant’s Christian Castillo in the 16U Freestyle’s 100 and Emilio Ysaguirre in the Junior Freestyle’s 132.

“I feel like it’s a little bit nerve-wracking because you’re competing for Arizona, so you’ve got to try to be your best out there,” Carter said. “Since I started wrestling, I’ve been wrestling for Coach (Callison). He’s helped me grow as a wrestler. He’s one of the guys who hasn’t held me back from anything. He’s been an amazing coach.”

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