They are at the top of their sport, seven wrestlers ranging from small (Gilbert’s Adrian Rios at 103 pounds) to large (Mountain View’s Pedro Garcia at 275 pounds). Combined, the seven have 262 wins and zero defeats on the year.
In addition to Rios and Garcia, the exclusive list includes Red Mountain’s A.J. Bartels, Desert Vista’s Quinton Pruett, Highland’s Stetson Anderson and Marcos de Niza’s Alex Varela and Alex Pavlenko.
It’s not just talent that sets these guys above the pack.
"Hard work, it’s what it all comes down to," Rios said.
"You can have the most technique but not be a hard worker and not win a match," he said. "It’s all heart."
Most of the unbeaten wrestlers — who hope to remain that way when the 5A state tournament runs today through Saturday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix — knew they had the ability to go undefeated when the season started. However, factors such as a lack of focus and looking past opponents can easily derail a perfect season.
"(Being undefeated) feels pretty good, but it’s what I expected," Pruett said. "Sometimes the season takes a toll; the key is to take it a match at a time. I can’t win all 40 matches at once."
Overconfidence can also result in an unexpected loss. That was almost the case for Varela, who narrowly beat Hamilton’s Kareem Abdullah in overtime in the Flowing Wells Tournament.
"I have (been overconfident) and that’s why I’ve had close matches," Varela said. "I’d beaten Abdullah three or four times, I just came out sluggish. But now I know."
An undefeated regular season is quite an accomplishment, but it in no way guarantees a state title. Just ask Pavlenko. Last year, he went into the state tournament with an unblemished record but lost in the state championship match.
"Undefeated doesn’t mean anything, I was undefeated last year, too," Pavlenko said. "(You can’t) take anything for granted."
Varela and Pruett are looking to defend their titles, while Rios, Garcia, Bartels and Anderson are in search of their first state championships. Pavlenko is trying for two titles in three years
"The state tournament is all mental," Pruett said. "Everyone’s pretty talented, but guys psyche themselves out."
Although they haven’t lost this year, the wrestlers still have rivals they are looking forward to facing in the tournament.
"There’s (Mesquite’s Ben Schoonover), he’s been saying he wants to wrestle me, which I’m ready for," Garcia said.
For Rios, it’s Peoria’s Tito Garcia.
"He beat me in OT last year,"Rios said. "I’ve been looking for awhile to wrestle him."
The untouchables (so far)
These 4A and 5A wrestlers made it through the regular season undefeated.
103 — Adrian Rios, Gilbert, Jr. (35-0) 112 — A.J. Bartels, Red Mtn., Sr. (44-0)
130 — Alex Varela, Marcos de Niza, Sr. (40-0)
135 — Angel Cejudo, Maryvale, Sr. (28-0) 160 — Alex Pavlenko, Marcos de Niza, Sr. (40-0)
189 — Stetson Anderson, Highland, Jr. (28-0)
215 — Quinton Pruett, Desert Vista, Sr. (41-0)
215 — Kevin Le Pert, Peoria Centennial, Sr. (23-0)
275 — Pedro Garcia, Mountain View, Sr. (34-0) 4A unbeatens 119 — Nick Gallick, Tucson Sunnyside, Jr. (36-0)
125 — Rene Torres, Tucson Cholla, So. (34-0)
135 — Philip Coker, Avondale Agua Fria, Sr. (32-0) 140 — Matt Lopez, Tucson Sunnyside, Jr. (29-0) 160 — Larry Wilbanks, Payson, Sr. (46-0)
171 — Nathan Lee, Payson, Jr. (45-0)
189 — Nick Pena, Tucson Amphitheater, Sr. (29-0)
These East Valley wrestlers enter the state tournament with just one loss on the year.
130 — Kareem Abdullah, Hamilton, Jr. (24-1)
152 — Wes Pierce, Marcos de Niza, Sr. (39-1)
152 — Chris Fraije, Mesa, Sr. (41-1)
160 — Brett Peterson, Pinnacle, Sr. (35-1) 275 — Ben Schoonover, Mesquite, Sr. (40-1)
What: 5A, 4A, 3A, 1A-2A state tournaments
5A schedule: Today — 11 a.m.: First round begins, competition continues through early evening. Friday — 8 a.m.: Wrestling begins, continues through early evening. Saturday — 8 a.m.: Semifinals and consolation round follow through approximately noon; 3 p.m.: Consolation finals (3rd-4th-5th and 6th places); 5 p.m.: Championship matches.
4A schedule: Today — 3 p.m.: First round begins, competition continues through evening. Friday — 8 a.m.: Wrestling begins, competition continues through early evening. Saturday — 8 a.m.: Semifinals and consolation round follow through late morning. 3 p.m.: Consolation finals (3rd-4th-5th and 6th places). 5 p.m.: Championship matches.
3A and 1A-2A schedule: Friday — 10:30 a.m.: Wrestling begins and continues throughout the day. Saturday — 8:30 a.m.: Semifinals and consolation; 11 a.m.: More consolation matches; 3 p.m.: Consolation finals third through sixth place; 5 p.m.: Championship matches.