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Chasing the Caballero: Arizona high school wrestlers are ready for Flowing Wells Invitational

Photo courtesy of Ahwatukee Foothills News

Corona del Sol's Ethan Tursini, in orange, is one of the favorites heading into the Flowing Wells Invitational.

The annual quest for the Caballero commences once again.

The 48th annual Flowing Wells Invitational, the top and most anticipated wrestling tournament in Arizona, gets underway Friday as the 37-team event brings together most of the top teams and individuals to one venue in Tucson.

Winning the Caballero, a very cool trophy given to the 14 individual champions, is tougher than winning a state title in most cases.

Photo by Jason Skoda

The Caballero trophy.

"It's the tournament of the year," Desert Vista (Phoenix) coach David Gonzalez said. "This is where everyone measures themselves against the rest of the state. You can come out this feeling either very good about yourself or knowing you have some work to do.

"Either way it's a good benchmark heading toward the end of the season."

The other big tournament of the weekend is hitting a special milestone, as the Doc Wright Invitational celebrates its 50th year. It will also be very competitive in several weight classes and the team race should be interesting, but the focus on Flowing Wells.

As far as teams go no one has been more impressive than Mountain View (Mesa), which is looking for its first state title since 2000 and second overall, and the Toros are considered the frontrunners in Division I at this point.

"They are the favorite," Basha (Chandler) coach Mike Garcia said. "They don't have many weak spots in the lineup and some wrestlers who are really going to get them a lot of points."

Another tournament win this weekend and Mountain View will add to an already impressive resume. The Toros finished with what is believed to be the highest (fourth) placement for an Arizona team at the Reno Tournament of Champions, won the Steve Blackford Duals and won the Mile High Challenge in recent weeks.

"I hate to say we are the No. 1, but we have wrestled real well," Mountain View head coach Bob Callison said. "That's the position we are in right now. At the same time there is a lot more wrestling to go and we have to keep working hard and stay focused."

The top challengers this weekend will be Sunnyside (Tucson), Cibola (Yuma), Corona del Sol (Tempe), Ironwood Ridge (Tucson) and Chandler among others.

Sunnyside is coming off a tournament win at Peoria, Cibola finished 10th at Reno, Corona is weakened by the loss of state champion Glenn Farina (injury) but will challenge with title contenders in Ethan Tursini (160 pounds) and Bridger Barker (170).

Photo courtesy of Mountain View wrestling

Mountain View heavyweight Alexis Garcia, in red,<br>goes for a hip toss at the Blackford Duals.

The Toros, however, look to be the team to beat. The lineup was strengthened by the addition of the Taylor brothers after the family moved back to Arizona. They started out in the Safford program, moved to Utah and returned this year to wrestle for the Toros.

Add the Taylor trio - freshman Merritt (120), Kiefer (170) and Weston (182) - to a lineup that already included Paden Mason (113), Blake Monty (152) and Phoenix Hollen (195) and Mountain View became the best team Callison has had since taking over the program in 2006.

"You could see with the workout partners on this team that we had, we had a chance to be pretty good," Callison said. "Partners are everything in the room. There are some big-time battles with the Taylors and Monty and other groups. On teams past maybe those guys wouldn't have the battles those guys have."

There will be plenty of top battles this weekend but the best weight class just might be 182, where Ironwood Ridge's Tristan Mordecai, Corona del Sol's Bridger Barker, Jro Byrd of Boulder Creek (Anthem), Derek Andresen of Hamilton (Chandler) and Desert Vista's Jeremiah Imonode are all in the weight class along with Weston Taylor.

One of them will walk away Saturday night with the Caballero.

"It's the tournament that everyone wants to win," Desert Vista 220-pounder Tristan Ezell said. "You have to be at your best or you don't have a chance."

Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at jskoda1024@aol.com or 480-272-2449.

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