For Camp Verde High School head wrestling coach Tracy Tudor, this season is not just about getting pins and wins.
Tudor said he has seven “studs” who can win a state title and up to nine who can place at this year’s Arizona Interscholastic Association Division IV state championships, but above all he is concerned about one thing for his wrestlers: Discipline.
“We want to keep our kids on the right track, we want them making the grades and we’re not going to tolerate bad behavior. Discipline is our goal this year,” Tudor said. “We want to be a highly disciplined team that makes good grades, that stays out of trouble. If we can do that, then big things can happen. Because we’ve got the talent, we’ve got the horsepower to go all the way.”
Tudor elaborated on the problems he has seen with athletes around the Verde Valley, pointing out drugs and alcohol he labeled as bad habits. First and foremost, he aims to keep them out of the Camp Verde wrestling room.
“Being a state champ is a great thing but not as good as being a good person when we leave Camp Verde High School,” Tudor said. “I want these kids to start thinking of other people besides themselves.”
If that primary goal can be achieved, then everything else should fall into place. The Cowboys took third at least year’s Division IV state meet and return three defending state champions: Senior Skyler Pike, sophomore Korben Uhler and junior Tristian Stanfield.
Sophomore Keene Todacheene is poised to have another strong year after narrowly missing out on last year’s state tournament, in addition to other returners in senior Daniel White and junior Brandon Ruiz.
Other schools like 2016 runner-up St. Johns High School and defending champion Morenci Junior/Senior High School will also be reloaded, and up to eight teams can compete for the team title, Tudor said.
New to this year’s team is junior Anthony Thinghitella, a transfer from Ironwood Ridge High School in Oro Valley. Although Thinghitella will have to sit out the first half of the season due to the transfer, Tudor expects a big contribution from the 138-pound Division II state qualifier from a year ago.
And despite being new to the school and team, Thinghitella already has taken a liking to the atmosphere in the Camp Verde wrestling room.
“Everybody is positive to be in here. They want to be working hard, that’s one thing I’ve noticed,” Thinghitella said. “When you’re coming in here with people with the same attitude as you, it boosts everybody up and you make each other better.”
Another newcomer to the team is Miguel Salas, a heavyweight, who just finished his senior season of playing football as a lineman.
Sophomore Laddie Wills, who during a period of his freshman season in 2016-17 was the team’s heavyweight grappler before losing his spot to Jesus Curiel, now graduated, and will compete with Salas for that heavyweight spot.
Pike lost just one match during his entire junior season, taking home his first state title in the 113-pound weight class. His goal for this year is to do one better: Go undefeated.
On a day-to-day basis, he has a duty to fulfill as a team leader. In that regard, he only looks to keep the desire to work hard strong within his fellow teammates.
“I just want to keep these boys motivated and keep their heads on straight,” Pike said. “If we can stay pumped up and excited to come to practice every day then it just brings up the intensity that we have in here. It makes us not dread practice as much when you want to be here, it’s a little different than hating practice every day. As long as I can motivate everyone, stay on them, keep working hard, we should have a good season.”
Throughout the season there are a few meets that will serve as measuring sticks for the Cowboys grapplers. Two of them are the Window Rock Veterans Memorial Classic in mid-December and the Joseph City Invitational in January.
The Window Rock meet was a last-minute addition, and features strong competition like Division I Sunnyside High School.
“Window Rock kind of threw a wrench in our schedule this year. We weren’t expecting Sunnyside and Ironwood Ridge to pop in, but it’s going to bring up the level of competition and I’m excited for it,” Pike said. “Joe City is always a meat grinder so it should be a good tournament for me and especially our underclassmen to make a prospect this year.”
The team’s first home meet is the Verde Duals on Dec. 1.