Minus the heavy snows from this past January, the sixth annual Mile High Challenge wrestling tournament should go off without a hitch today and Saturday at Prescott Valley Event Center.
Forecasters call for highs in the 60s on both days in Prescott Valley, allowing for at least 28 varsity teams (all from Arizona except one from Escondido, California), to travel to and compete in this early precursor to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s state tournaments Feb. 8-10 at PVEC.
Challenge director Allen Foster, former head coach and current assistant at Chino Valley, said wrestling runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Finals are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Admission’s $11 per adult (ages 19 and older) and $8 per youngster/teen (ages 2 to 18). Children younger than 2 years old sitting on a parent’s lap are free. Proceeds from participating teams’ entry fees and tournament sponsorships are split evenly among the local wrestling programs from Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain and Chino Valley to offset expenses.
Each weight class features a 32-man bracket with the Top 8 wrestlers seeded.
“I really believe in this tournament, and you’ll see the best wrestling up here in our area,” said Foster, adding that colleges scout grapplers at the Challenge. “It’s probably the best sport out there with the hardest-working kids in it. It’s always been a tri-city [area] effort, and it’s nice for the fans to come watch.”
With snow blanketing Prescott Valley in early January, only 16 teams trekked here, inhibiting the Challenge’s state tournament-like feel that it had in prior years.
Although defending Challenge team champion Windsor (Colorado) won’t return to defend its title, state stalwarts Sunnyside (Tucson), Liberty (Peoria), Marana Mountain View and Show Low will fill the gap.
Foster said Sunnyside’s “the best team in Arizona.” State runner-up in 2017, Sunnyside has won 30 team state titles since 1979, an AIA record. Liberty was the 2016 Division II state champion and Marana Mountain View snared the D-II crown in 2017. Show Low won the Division III state championship in 2017.
Individual wrestlers to watch include Sunnyside senior 138-pounder Roman Bravo-Young, a Penn State signee currently ranked No. 1 nationally and a three-time state champion; Liberty senior Trey Escobar, defending 132-pound Division II state runner-up; and Marana Mountain View junior 126-pounder Marcus Castillo, defending 132-pound D-II state champ.
“Sunnyside’s definitely the favored team [in this year’s Challenge],” Foster added. “Bravo-Young’s been wrestling in college tournaments, and winning college tournaments at Opens. But I’m excited to see 160 and 170 pounds. Those weight classes go really, really deep.”
Separate JV and junior high tourneys also accompany the Challenge. Tournament organizers award their customary belt buckles to all individual high school champs, and, for the first time, will distribute custom-made belts to the individual junior high champs.
“Kids that win it in junior high can get a belt, and then come back when they’re in high school and get a buckle to go with their belt,” Foster added.
What follows is a short breakdown for the three local schools and their standout wrestlers at the Challenge. Individual matchups in each weight class likely won’t be released on trackwrestling.com until this morning.
“This is looking like the biggest Challenge we’ve had yet,” Prescott coach Max Payne said. “It’s cool that the tournament’s at the same place as state. It makes it easier for the guys when they get to state.”
Payne has 12 wrestlers in the varsity tournament and a dozen more in the JV tourney. Normally, Payne fields 14 grapplers on varsity, but two are injured.
“If we get in the Top 10 [as a team] I’d be pretty satisfied for the group of guys we have,” Payne added.
The Badgers’ varsity possesses four Challenge veterans, including 6-foot-7, 280-pound senior heavyweight Gavin Nelson (placed fourth at the Challenge in January), 152-pound sophomore Koby Coates (sixth at 138), 138-pound senior Darian Bowyer (second at 120) and 125-pound sophomore Colton Tomitz (sixth at 113). Freshman 120-pounder Lincoln Eby, who won a junior high Challenge title in eighth grade, is in the mix, too.
Payne said Bowyer and Coates should place again at the Challenge, and he’s hoping the same goes for Nelson.
“I’ve got four or five guys that should be in the running to place, if not in the finals,” the coach added.
Bradshaw Mountain returns only 182-pound senior Daniel Medevielle (sixth at 170 pounds in January’s Challenge) and 120-pound sophomore David Medevielle (second at 106) as Challenge vets.
“Our younger guys are improving quickly, but we would expect Daniel Medevielle to do well, and of course his brother, David,” Bears coach Brad Grauberger said. “And freshman Blake Huenemeyer at 106 is really coming on strong with close to 20 wins already.”
Bradshaw Mountain’s not as deep as it was last season. Daniel’s the Bears’ lone senior.
“We will only have one junior in the lineup this weekend. That will be Parker Hines at 195,” Grauberger said. “Everyone else is either a freshman or a sophomore.” The Bears lost 132-pound sophomore Sam Denman to a season-ending knee injury. Grauberger said he had looked forward to Denman having a great 2017-18 season after barely missing the state tournament as a freshman.
“If you’ve looked at the lineup of teams, this may be tougher than the state tournament at some weight classes, so we’ll look at it that way,” Grauberger added. “For our younger guys, it will give them a feel of what a state tournament is like.”
Defending 138-pound Division III state champion Keller Rock, a sophomore, will miss the Challenge after suffering a broken hand in practice Dec. 18. Rock placed second at the Challenge in January.
Foster said Rock, now a 160-pounder, will be out for the next month, but he should return for state. Chino Valley’s had three individual champions at the Challenge, including former Cougars Kendall Foster and Spencer Coffin, and Cougars sophomore Zach Giese, who won at 106 pounds this year. Cougars to watch are Wade Payne at 120 pounds, Cody Jasper at 126 and junior Kyle Lund at 145. In January’s Challenge, Lund placed sixth at 145, and junior J.C. Mortensen, who finished fourth at 132, now wrestles at 152.
“We’re kind of beat up, but we’re looking for some big things from those guys,” Foster said of Payne, Jasper and Lund. “Those are all our team captains, and they’ve been wrestling stellar all season long.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.
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