Two wrestlers from the Mountain View High School wrestling team won first place at this year’s Division II state championship, held in Prescott Valley Feb. 15. The team finished in second place behind defending state champs Sunnyside High School.
Mountain View junior Gilbert Rodriguez (36-2) took first place in the 120 weight class beating the former champ, Sunnyside junior James Brown (40-4). Brown delivered Rodriguez’s two losses earlier in the season.
“I was really nervous because the kid I had to beat in the finals was the kid who beat me twice from Sunnyside,” Rodriguez said. “I felt like I was wrestling myself, but I started to believe more and more that I could be the state champion.”
Mountain View junior Chris Lopez (58-1) also won the top spot in the 138 weight class over Ironwood Ridge senior Tyler Rokop (37-5). Lopez would have finished the season undefeated, but a controversial disqualification earlier in the year gave the young man his only loss. Lopez took second place at last year’s state championship. He said that loss made him work harder this season.
“The difference from last year to this year is I could wrestle the whole match without getting tired,” Lopez said. “Last year when I took second, that kinda hurt for a while. But it helped me work harder so when I got to the mat at finals, I was ready.”
Ten out of the 11 wrestlers Mountain View coach P.J. Ponce brought to the state championship this year found a spot on the winners podium, tying the previous school record set in 2012, according to Ponce. Seven of the ten wrestlers won medals for placing in the top three spots for their weight class this year as well.
“We really finished strong in the medal round and it was a great way to finish the season,” Ponce said. “Winning seven out of ten is pretty tough to do.”
Ponce has been the cornerstone of Mountain View’s wrestling program for the past eight years, and has coached the sport for more than a quarter of a century. He said he enjoys watching his kids’ progress to their full potential when they get to the mat at the championships.
“It’s amazing to watch these kids peak at the right time at state,” Ponce said. “Our program has been known to do that.”
While the official Arizona Interscholastic Association’s wrestling season is between November to February, the Mountain View wrestling program is year-round, according to Ponce. That doesn’t seem to bother his team, though. Both Rodriguez and Lopez said they plan on taking a week off and then will get back to training—they have a national wrestling tournament in Virginia Beach to compete in late March. Ponce is also planning on taking a week off as well. His wife recently had a child and he’s looking forward to spending time with his family.
“During the long season, I go a few days without seeing them because I leave early in the morning and they’ll be in bed when I get home at night,” Ponce said. “It’s been tough, so I’m celebrating by spending my time with them.”
Out of the 40 wrestlers on Mountain View’s roster, only one is a senior. The other 39 will be practicing throughout the off-season to get ready for next year’s season and try to dethrone Sunnyside at the state championship.
“The big thing is coming back to win it all right?” Ponce said. “We’ve lost to Sunnyside, which is one of the top teams in the state, for the past two years. Next year, the goal is to win it all.”