February 15, 2006 - It was early in the season and Cliff Engelhart had just been dealt a defeat at the hands of Sunrise Mountain High School's Harley Fandrich. In the second meeting between the two on the season - both Fandrich wins - the Mountain View High School senior walked off the mat shaking his head.

I can beat this guy, thought Engelhart.

On Feb. 11 at Glendale Arena, the bruising 275-plus pound heavy weight got his chance at redemption. This time, when it counted most, in the Class 5A Division II state championship bout, Engelhart's premonitions proved true.

Engelhart outlasted Fandrich, scoring a 12-6 win, to join John Ponce and Kyle Frost as state champions for the Mountain Lions.

"He came back off the mat and says, 'I can take him down,'" said Mountain View head coach Bob Newman of Engelhart's previous match against Fandrich. "Well, he proved that tonight."

The beefy senior jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period, dropping Fandrich and locking him up with a headlock moments before time expired. It was a stealth move for a big man, but one that Engelhart doesn't remember all that well.

"It's hard to explain; I can hardly think of it myself," said Engelhart about the move that proved to be the deciding factor in an otherwise even match. "The next thing you know, he's on his back and I've got him in a headlock."

Engelhart becomes the first heavyweight from Mountain View to win a title since Ryan Shirley earned the top spot in state in 2000. The senior is just the third 275-pound champ in school history joining Shirley and Mike Villa, who accomplished the feat in 1992 and 1990.

The senior, a No. 2 seed to start the tournament, finishes the season 26-3. His state title trophy will be placed on the mantle at home next to the two his father won while attending Flowing Wells High School.

"I did it for him, every time I go out there and wrestle I always thought of him," said Engelhart, who was ousted from the state tourney in the semi-finals last year, about his father. "He motivated me."

But Engelhart wasn't the only state champ to come out of the Northwest.

It took overtime, but teammate John Ponce (43-3) was able to defeat Raymond Pina of Sunnyside High School, 8-7, to take the state title in the 145-pound weight class. Also winning a state title for Mountain View was Kyle Frost, who also beat a Sunnyside wrestler. Frost (43-4) beat Jerry Ochoa 5-2.

"It's one of the top groups I've had, that's for sure," said Newman of this year's Mountain View squad. "Wrestling wise, they've done some things the other groups haven't."

This year's squad is the first in Newman's 20-year coaching tenure at Mountain View to earn three individual state titles while placing nine. To place at state a wrestler must finish in the top six in his weight class. There are 14 weight divisions in high school wrestling.

The nine placers for Mountain View included state runner-ups Estevan Nanez (140) and Jared Hiller (215). Stephen Perez (119) placed third while Wes Arndt (125), Pat O'Sullivan (171) and Jeremy Walrath (189) took home fifth place showings.

The Mountain Lions finished third overall as a team in the Class 5A Division II behind Sunnyside and Marco de Niza High School.

The Class 4A Division I produced two state champions from the Northwest - Mitch Baker from Marana High School and Matt Barron of Canyon Del Oro High School.

Baker wrestled his way to the top spot in the 140-pound weight class. The Marana High School senior pinned Ironwood Ridge High School's Steve Extract three and a half minutes in to win the first state title for the Tigers since 1999 and the first in head coach Rob Lindsay's five-year stint with the program.

Marana placed four wrestlers in the top six, including Larry Esparza (152) who fell to CDO's Barron. The senior, Barron (40-4) knocked off Esparza 10-4 for the second time in a week to claim CDO's lone title.

Joining Barron with top six finishes for CDO was Andy Cano (103) and Garrett Wilton (145). Both finished sixth in their respective division.

As a team, Ironwood Ridge finished fourth overall in the Class 4A Division I. Although they didn't crown a state champ, the Nighthawks placed six in the top six. Falling just short of a state title was Ben Reedy (160), Troy Comi (171) and Extract. Four of Ironwood Ridge's wrestlers who earned medals - by finishing in the top four - are sophomores, which bodes well for the future of the Nighthawk program.

With the high school season now over, those that wrestle for club teams will get started as early as this week with the freestyle season.

Christopher Wuensch is a staff writer covering sports. He can be reached at 797-4384 ext. 112 or by e-mail at cwuensch@explorernews.com.

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