You may hear some strange things in a crowded wrestling room, but rarely will you hear one teammate tell another: “You’re not going to win state this year. You’re not even going to place.”
But that’s exactly what Dobson’s Jake Allen admits telling teammate Ryan Campbell during a recent practice. In fact, Allen smiles as he recounts the exchange he had with his teammate.
“I was just getting into his head,” Allen said, “so he pushes harder.”
Doing what it takes to get better, pushing harder, mentally and physically, those are things that have to be done in order to become a championship-caliber wrestling team. Those things also take a level of maturity, maturity that the current Dobson team has a great deal of.
“The whole thing is, it’s your senior year and you’ve got to lay it all on the line,” said Allen, a senior. “That’s what the whole team is doing. We all want that title individually as well as the team championship.”
The Mustangs’ squad is dominated by seniors. In their last dual meet, the Mustangs ran 11 seniors out to the center circle. Of those seniors, five are state placers, including Campbell (at 135 pounds) and Alex Herrera (103) who each placed third as juniors.
Both Campbell and Allen are unbeaten this season (16-0 and 15-0, respectively) and Herrera is 15-1. The other notable seniors in the lineup are Tarin Sherwood (11-3 at 112), Isaac Hayes (13-3 at 145), Dylan Hannah (coming off injury is 1-0 at 152), Cody Barriente (15-1 at 160) and Tommy Aldrete (13-4 at 215).
“I knew I was that close last year, I don’t want that to happen again this year too,” Campbell said of falling just shy of making the title match. “It’s our team, our senior year. We talked to each other and decided that we needed to put in the extra work.”
The first phase of the extra work came in the summer, when the Mustangs went en masse to a pair of summer team camps. First, 45 went to one camp, then 35 to another. They finished first in one and third in another.
“I saw some definite excitement out of our boys, that there are opportunities for them to do something,” Dobson coach Steve Tannenbaum said. “I saw the spark out of the leaders in the senior class and they’ve kind of made it contagious in the wrestling room.”
More work was done running up “A” Mountain in Tempe or runs at South Mountain Park in Phoenix. These runs were not planned by Tannenbaum. These were organized by the seniors.
“I’d get done talking to them at practice and the seniors would step in and tell everyone that they didn’t have an option, they were going to show up in the morning,” Tannenbaum said. “We had 30 guys meeting out in the parking lot on a Saturday morning and going to run A Mountain or South Mountain and I had nothing to do with that.”
“It takes a lot (to be a successful team),” Herrera said. “You have to train 24/7, because if you take a break off one day, all that work can go for nothing. You have to keep training 24/7 and eat, sleep wrestling basically during the season.
“We put all of the work into it, I don’t see why we don’t deserve (to win).”
So far this season, the extra work is paying off. For the first time since they’ve been attending the tournament, the Mustangs won the 21-team Bonanza High Duals in Las Vegas in December. They then finished second at the McClintock Invitational, 14 points behind perennial power Tucson Sunnyside.
Campbell and Allen each won their respective weight classes at McClintock and sport unbeaten records heading into the Aztec Duals, which finished on Saturday.
Allen has been the biggest example of what the Dobson senior dedication is about. After failing to make it to state last year, Allen focused himself. He attended four different camps in the summer, including a 27-day intensive camp that took up almost all of July.
The results have been remarkable, as he entered to McClintock tournament unseeded and dominated all of his matches on the way to a tourney title.
“A lot of people talk about wanting to win, talk about wanting to be successful, but what are you going to do to make it happen?” Tannenbaum said. “Jake has put in the work.”
“You truly know how to train your senior year because you’ve had four years to figure it out,” Allen said.
The final phase of the work is done each day in the wrestling room, where the Mustangs push each other physically, and test each other mentally. Being seniors, they understand how important keeping a clear head on the mat can be, something they’ve learned over the years.
“We train ourselves like seniors should and practice like seniors should."