Back in February when the Desert Vista wrestling program just completed one of the best seasons it ever had, the anticipation had already started ramping up.
As good as the 2010-11 season was, when the Thunder had three individual champions and finished third in the team standings, the prevailing thought was this year would be even better.
The season got under way last Tuesday when the Thunder hosted a tri-meet against Mountain Pointe and Mountain Ridge.
Before the season started a couple of things happened to turn the attention toward the Thunder even more.
Perennial state champion Sunnyside lost its head coach when Bobby DeBerry decided to step down. For the first time in years questions arose about the stability of the Blue Devils' wrestling room.
Then a lineup that had three defending state champions, a state placer, and three other state qualifiers returning was bolstered by the move-in transfers of Derek Allen (Mountain Ridge, 145 or 152 pounds) and Robert Sobarzo (Westview, 132/138), both of whom placed at state in their careers.
It gives the Thunder state experience at nine of the 14 wrestling weight classes and they enter the season as the Division I preseason favorite.
Just don't tell Desert Vista coach David Gonzalez.
"It still runs through Sunnyside," said Gonzalez, who is a former assistant coach at Sunnyside. "They have just as much returning as we do. With the returning lineup we have we should be one of the top teams.
"I am not conceding anything to Sunnyside, but they have won so many (14) state titles in a row for a reason. Coach DeBerry might be gone but the program still has its roots."
Winning the team title is hardly a done deal and the lineup has to be flushed out, but watch the talent in the wrestling room and it is easy to see why Desert Vista should challenge for its best ever finish of second place in the state meet in 2002.
The expectations start with senior Robbie Mathers, the school's first two-time state champion, as he tries to win his third title.
He has an unwavering focus on improving that never deters and his approach, which helped nab a scholarship to Utah Valley State, bleeds into the rest of the room.
"I put in the work in here so I am ready to be at my best when it is time to compete," said Mathers, who will go either 132 or 138.
Senior Kendall Love (126/132) and junior Alex Bambic (195/220) will try to win their second titles while Mike Arredondo (HVY) hopes to return from football as late as possible and try to improve on his sixth-place finish last season.
Sophomore Matt Mathers (107/113), senior Cooper Gardner (138/145) and senior Jimi Dixie (170) plan on doing more than just qualifying for the state meet this time around on the way to Prescott Valley.
The Mountain Pointe program is not at the same level as Desert Vista, but the Pride is coming off one of its better seasons as well.
Mountain Pointe qualified three for the state meet last year and junior Cody Rojas, who went 29-6, returns to be the team leader.
He is expected to go 113 this year and will be pushed by his drilling partner junior Trey Stevenson (24-8).
Senior Garrett Gaughan, who went 17-11 last year, will be at either 160 or 171, while Skyline transfer Mike Boatwright, who sat out last season, will go 138.
"We hope we can qualify eight for state," Pride coach Shannon Radford said.
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