There were so many great sports moments in 2016 that one story could not contain them all. Last week we looked at stories No. 5-10(D). This week it is the Top 4 stories of the year.
1. Ironwood Ridge Wrestling
There were a lot of headlines for the Nighthawk grapplers. First and foremost, Ironwood Ridge wrestlers won three individual state titles and led the Nighthawks to a team title at the Division I state wrestling tournament in Prescott.
Ten Nighthawk wrestlers reached the podium and helped their school edge Sunnyside and Mesa Mountain View for the team state title. The Nighthawks earned 194 points, 12.5 more than second-place Sunnyside and 27.5 more than Mesa Mountain View.
Danny Vega concluded a remarkable high school career with his third state title, winning the 113-pound division. Josiah Kline capped off his senior season by winning the title at 132 and improving his record to 42-3 on the season. Jeremy Benson was the third Nighthawk to win an individual state title, taking first at 182
Those were not the only headlines for those three. Vega was set to wrestle at Grand Canyon University, only to see the school fold their wrestling program. Vega landed on his feet, accepting a scholarship to wrestle at Iowa State, where he enrolled this fall.
Before heading off to Ames, Iowa, Vega had to finish out his high school career with two big wins. Vega won the Junior Folkstyle National Championship in the 113-pound weight class. It was his third consecutive championship in the event. Just a week before Vega competed for Team USA got a 16-5 major decision in the Pittsburgh Wresting Classic, which is considered one of the most prestigious all-star matches in the country.
Six Ironwood Ridge wrestlers were named NHSCA Academic All-Americans this year. Jeremy Berson, Marco Dominguez and Kyle Taylor were the trio of seniors to be named to the Academic All-American team. All three will also continue their wrestling careers. Berson will attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Taylor will attend the U S Military Academy at West Point and Dominguez signed to attend the Marion Military Institute, a prep school that feeds into the Coast Guard Academy.
The news was not all good as head coach Tim Berrier has resigned and will take a teaching and assistant coaching job at Pueblo.
2. Ironwood Ridge Softball
For the second time in three seasons, the Ironwood Ridge softball team claimed a state championship. The Nighthawks beat Cactus 6-2 in the Division II state title game at ASU’s Farrington Stadium last spring.
It was the Nighthawks’ second win over Cactus in the playoffs and both games saw Ironwood Ridge utilize a four-run sixth inning to earn a win over the Cobras. Although they have a potent offense that averaged almost 10 runs a game, they had trouble in the early innings at times this season.
“We’ve been like that all year,” said Ironwood Ridge coach Rich Alday. “We start real slow and get going in the later innings. If it’s not the 1-2-3-4, the end of the lineup really does a great job. It was a whole team effort.”
Nighthawk hurler Mandy Lorenson won her third game of the state tournament, and despite giving up her first runs of the postseason, finished with an impressive 0.78 ERA in the playoffs. Lorenson finished the season 11-2 with a 1.63 ERA and is now at Pima College. The Nighthawks finished the season 33-4. They were ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the season, but lost to rival Canyon Del Oro in the final regular season game and earned the No. 2 seed in the bracket.
3. Mountain View’s Justice Summerset
Mountain View’s Justice Summerset concluded his prep career with two state titles, which had previously eluded him. Summerset finished second his freshman year and again last season in the high jump, but had never taken home the gold in an event that he is a state record holder and national champion in.
“Can finally say I’m an Arizona state champion,” Summerset said.
Summerset cleared seven feet several times as a senior, and set the state record at 7’-2’ ½, but struggled at that height in the state meet. He did jump 6-9, which was three inches higher than Canyon Del Oro’s Cameron Crandall, who took second place.
Summerset was not done bringing home the gold. He actually also won the 400 meters as well and finished seventh in the 200 meters.
The state title closed out a great year for the multi-sport athlete who quarterbacked the Mountain Lion football team and also played on the basketball team. He accepted an athletic scholarship to high jump for the University of Arizona last spring as well.
4. Marana Football/
The Marana football team not only went to the post season for the first time in almost a decade, but also won their first playoff game since the ’80s and their first regional/sectional title since the 1970s.
After just missing the playoffs the year before, the Tigers’ chances looked slim as they opened the season 0-2. Little did we know then, but those two teams, Cienega and Ironwood Ridge, would finish the season ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the state. From there, the Tigers rattled off eight wins in a row. They outscored their final eight regular season opponents 358-116.
That alone would have been enough, but add to the fact the tragedy of the passing of quarterback Connor Leaven’s father. Less than 48 hours after learning of his father’s passing, Leavens led the Tigers to a 52-14 win over Poston Butte, throwing for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns.
A few weeks later he’d help guide the Tigers to a road win at Desert View to give Marana that regional title. In the state playoffs he led the Tigers to a last second touchdown, capped off by a 5-yard scoring run, to propel the team to a 28-21 win over Kellis.
Leavens was voted 5A Sonoran Offensive MVP by the coaches.