Ben Andrew could have taken an easier route, but it just isn’t his mindset.
The decision to take on the best, and come out on top, paid off in one of the state’s best out-of-nowhere performances.
Along the way to the Division I 220-pound title, and being named the Tribune Wrestler of the Year, the Mesa junior knocked off four state champions, who hold six state titles between them, to become one himself.
Not bad for someone who never placed at state in his only other appearance.
It started before the regular season even began when he trained all summer with former Mesa state champion Andy Jay to prepare for the Border Wars qualifier at Arizona State.
He could have gone heavyweight instead of a loaded 220-pound weight class. Mesa coach Bobby Williams gave Andrew the option and wasn’t surprised by the answer he received.
“He was pretty hungry after not placing at state as a sophomore,” Williams said. “He felt like he hadn’t done enough and worked really hard to make sure he didn’t feel like that again.”
In the first round, he beat Peoria’s Jaimen Bennalley, who won the Division II title this year after finishing third last year, 9-6, and then in the semifinals Andrew beat Desert Vista two-time state champion Alex Bambic, 5-3.
He went on to win the event to represent the state very well, considering he knocked off a Colorado two-time state champion in the process, in the tournament that brought teams from the five states that border Arizona to the ASU campus.
It was all Andrew, who missed placing at state by one match as a sophomore, who needed to set up the regular season.
And it all started with a decision to take the hard way.
“At the time I thought Bambic was going to go 220,” Andrew said of the decision to wrestle 220 at the qualifier. “I knew if I was going to win to state I was going to have to beat him at some point, so I went 220 instead of heavyweight.”
Turns out Bambic ended up going 195, but Sunnyside returning state champion Cedric Gonzalez was at 220.
Gonzalez entered the state tournament as the top seed at 26-0 and Andrew was the second seed at 41-1.
Andrew, whose lone defeat was against Bennalley in the Moon Valley finals, did a great job of fending off Gonzalez’ shot attempts in the first period as it ended scoreless.
He opened the second with an escape and ht a shuck - his go-to take takedown — for a 3-0 and pushed it to 5-0 with a tilt before Gonzalez ended up having to disqualify because he ran out of blood time and couldn’t continue.
“I was pretty nervous waiting for our match, but I was fine once it got going,” he said. “When I started to realize that I was going to win it because he couldn’t wrestle anymore, I was pretty pumped.”
He wasn’t exactly pumped about the sport when he started out in the seventh grade, only because one of his friends wanted him to do it with him. A few short months later, he won the city tournament.
Andrew was hooked.
“I loved it and wanted to be more,” Andrew said. “(Five) years later, I am a state champion.”
There are other wrestlers in the East Valley who have had better careers, won multiple state titles, but for one season Andrew was tough to beat.
Just ask the four guys who call themselves state champions who fell in the wake of Andrew’s decision to take on the best.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com.Follow him on Twitter @JSKodaAFN.
ALL-TRIBUNE WRESTLING First team
Weight Name Yr. School Comment
106 Tristan Moran Fr. Chandler Openly talked about winning four state titles. One down, three to go.
113 Travis Matt Soph. Horizon Top-seeded third-place finisher lost a tough semifinal match to end title hunt.
120 Dalton Brady Jr. Chandler Returned from Olympic Training Center rusty in folkstyle but never challenged after first match.
126 Octavio Penunuri Sr. Mountain View Epitome of a Toro wrestler - keeps busting his tail until he finds the top of the podium.
132 Robbie Mathers Sr. Desert Vista Went 21-1 in state tournaments, winning three titles after finishing third as as freshman.
138 Robert Sobarzo Sr. Desert Vista Wrestled his best when it counted most, winning the toughest weight class in the state.
145 Seth Monty Jr. Mountain View Came up short in winning his second state title, but will be a top contender for No. 2 next year.
152 Samson Imonde Sr. Horizon Showed last year’s epic fail at state was a blip as he cruised to state title after transfer from Central.
160 Dorian Coleman Sr. Mesa Didn’t make lineup full-time until last season and promptly ripped off two state titles in a row.
170 Garrett Ryan Jr. Horizon Smooth and dedicated, Ryan brings home title after finishing fifth last seasson.
182 Christian Allen Sr. Highland Physical specimen won state title handily after being upset in last year’s quarterfinals.
195 Alex Bambic Jr. Desert Vista Three-time state placer, two-time state champ can become school’s second three-timer next season.
220 Ben Andrew Jr. Mesa Went from state qualifier to state champ by beating four champions in one year.
HVY Richard Castro Sr. Marcos de Niza Came in as second seed and made the finals before falling to Luke Braun of Shadow Mountain.
ALL-TRIBUNE WRESTLING SECOND team
Weight Name Yr. School Comment
106 Gary Smith Soph. Desert Ridge Continued Jaguars’ lower weight tradition of putting in title contention before finishing third.
113 Zach Roybal Marcos de Niza Took long road to fourth-place finish after losing first-round match.
120 Da’Wayne Robertson Sr. Westwood Self-made wrestler beat a four-time champion but couldn’t get to Brady’s level
126 Glenn Farina Soph. Corona del Sol Made the semifinals in Division I before finishing sixth.
132 James Sanchez Sr. Tempe State champ entered offseason after finishing lower on the podium than he did as a sophomore.
138 Jesse Morales Jr. Marcos de Niza The path to his second state title almost stopped in the quarterfinals, but squeaked out 6-5 win.
145 Jared Johnson Sr. Gilbert One of the state’s best athletes frustrated opponents with speed and elusiveness.
152 Marshall Varner Jr. Brophy State runner-up pushed Imonode but didn’t have enough in the end.
160 Derek Schiefer Canyon State Third-place at state at any level deserves recognition.
170 Diego Alvarado Sr. Chandler Helped Wolves to state team title after breakout year led to runner-up finish.
182 Jay Tucker Corona del Sol Looked unbeatable early in the year but injuries slowed path to state title.
195 Alex Burgoyne Hamilton Three of five defeats came at the hand of two-time champion Bambic.
220 Jake Lee Jr. San Tan Foothills Rocked his way to becoming the program’s first true state champion.
HVY Steve Rodriguez Sr. Corona del Sol One of the few Aztec wrestlers to wrestle to potential at state tournament, finishing second.
106 – Ryan Kuhn, Basha; Brian Mitchell, Desert Vista; Gabriel Cobb, Williams Field. 113 – Nathan Bosley, Perry; Ted Rico, Combs; Zach Sanchez, Camp Verde. 120 – William Maxon, Horizon; Joey Diaz, Skyline; Marcus Begay, Higley. 126 – Brian Devine, Chandler; Estevan Ulibarri, Hamilton; Marc Uehling, Apache Junction.
132 – Zach Walton, Corona del Sol; Jordan Velasquez, Hamilton; Cayman Nielson, Mountain View; John Naeole, Basha; MacKenzie Hill, Queen Creek. 138 – Curt Done, Highland; Bryant Wood, Horizon; Daniel Cartegena, Corona del Sol; Blake Monty, Mountain View; Rich Flores, Marcos de Niza; Rand Hawk, Campo Verde, Justin Olmsted, Higley. 145 – Derek Alllen, Desert Vista; Ethan Tursini, Corona del Sol; Austin Schmidt, Brophy; Tyler Graham, Notre Dame. 152 – Joe Pyper, Mesa; Mason Darveaux, Highland; Curtis Buelna, Chandler; Andrew Finn, McClintock; Alex Bacon, Valley Christian; Miguel Villegas, San Tan Foothills. 160 – Brandon Stratton, Red Mountain; Daniel Savage, Chandler; Payton Vermeesch, Pinnacle; Robert Butler, Corona del Sol. 170 – Dante Patrick, Desert Mountain; Dylon Yole, Marcos de Niza; Hayden Moore, Queen Creek; Andrew Jensen, Campo Verde; Alex Farrar, Seton Catholic. 182 – Alex Andresen, Hamilton; Anthony Aguilar, Chaparral; Dillon Pigsley, Marcos de Niza; Talon Higgins, Canyon State. 195 – T.J. Thomas, Dobson; Hugo Villa, Desert Mountain; Adam Pavlenko, Marcos de Niza; Alex Buppert, Campo Verde. 220 – Jerad Humphries, Basha; Drew Lattner, Chandler; Zack Yazzie, Higley. HVY – Mike Kaledjian, Red Mountain; RayShawn Bogan, Desert Ridge; Matt Sohky, Campo Verde; Sean Little, Combs; Sidney Causey, Tempe.