Feb. 16, 2005 - On Feb. 12 at Glendale Arena, Joey Crandall became the first state champion in the four year history of the Ironwood Ridge High School wrestling program when he outlasted No. 1 seeded Davis Cluff (46-5) of Payson.
The IRHS senior was the only wrestler from the Northwest and Catalina Foothills region to capture a state title in any class.
Cruising to a state title, however, was anything but smooth sailing.
It was more than a year ago when Crandall began second guessing his career as a wrestler at the Class 4A Oro Valley school.
Crandall was suffering from what he describes as "quitter's mentality," a state of mind that hurtled him to the brink of retiring from the upstart IRHS program and the sport as a whole before his final season.
What a difference a year makes.
"I'm shocked," said Crandall (28-12) after narrowly winning the title match by a score of 10-9.
What makes Crandall's run through the 145-pound weight class even more remarkable is that the senior did it as a No. 7 seed.
"No one expected this but us," beamed IRHS head coach Jim Anders after the title match.
Beating the No. 1 seeded Cluff is nothing new for Crandall who took down the Payson junior last year by a score of 7-1.
But that was a different year. The constant battering at the hands of tougher Class 5A competition had taken a toll both mentally and physically on Crandall, then a junior. Anders regularly schedules tougher matches during the season so his wrestlers can get an edge come regional and state playoff time.
The edge worked, but not without some motivation from coach Anders and from within.
Despite being burned out on the sport, the 145-pound Crandall advanced to the Class 4A state tournament, anyway, eventually falling in the third round. The loss was a taste of how close he could get to a state title and ignited the "fire" within, said Crandall.
The senior joins elite company at IRHS, which opened in 2001 by winning the school's third individual state championship ever. Last year in track and field, Daniel Borg, discus, and Mallory Drain, high jump, earned state titles in their respective fields.
In the moments after accepting his place on the podium at the top of his weight class, Crandall flashed a smile of relief, as if 145-pounds had just been lifted off his shoulders.
"I'll probably go to the University of Arizona," said Crandall, pausing a moment to briefly think about what the future has in store for him. "But I'm done with wrestling though."
If his own personal motivation wasn't enough for Crandall, Anders upped the ante making a pre-tournament pledge to his team. If one of them wins a state title, said Anders, he will dye his hair in the school's colors, blue and white.
"I'm a man of my word," said Anders of his future hairdo.
As a team, IRHS finished ninth at the state meet with 83 points. Despite sending 11 wrestlers to the tournament, Crandall was the only Nighthawk to advance to a championship match. Placing at state for the Nighthawks with sixth place finishes were Ryan Gorney, 103 and Nash Clark, 119. Ben Reedy took fourth place in the 160-pound class. To place at the state tourney, a wrestler has to finish in the top six in his bracket.
The only other wrestler from the Northwest and Foothills area to compete in a Class 4A state title match was Lance Contendo (35-5) of Catalina Foothills. The senior's bid for a championship fell short, losing to top seeded Paul Vasquez (46-2) of Pueblo, 12-8 in the title match.
His Catalina Foothill's teammate, Brad Crowe claimed fifth overall in the 145-pound class.
Of the 29 wrestlers that the Northwest and Foothills region sent to the state tourney in Classes 2A through 5A, none arguably have the desire to win more than Ben Coate of Pusch Ridge Christian Academy. Wrestling against limited competition on the five-man PRCA squad, the senior scrapped his way to a 45-7 record this year and a No. 1 seed in the 189-pound bracket of the Class 1A/2A.
Standing in his way of a state title, however, was an old nemesis. Advancing through his field, Coate met Andy Brennon (32-2) of Joseph City in the 1A/2A finals. The two met last year in the state tournament when Brennon, a three-time state champ in three different weight classes, made quick work of Coate in the first round.
"Ben didn't know what hit him," said Bob Coate, PRCA assistant coach of his son's quick exit from the 2004 tourney.
"Ben is not the same wrestler he was last year," said Coate of the speed and strength his son has added this season.
Revenge was not in the works for Coate, however. Brennon, already leading in the match 6-1, pinned the senior with 1:42 left to go, effectively ending Coate's bid for the first state title in PRCA history.
"He (Brennon) countered everything Ben did," said the coach. "He's the only 2A guy from Tucson to go this far, we couldn't be more proud of him."
In 5A action, Northwest wrestling powerhouse Mountain View failed to place any of its wrestlers higher than sixth overall. Cliff Engelhart, 275, and Jared Hiller, 215 were the only Mountain Lions to place.
Sammy Guitard was the lone Canyon del Oro wrestler to place at state. The senior claimed sixth place in the 5A Conference in the 160-pound class. For Marana, Tyler Tellez took home a fourth place finish in the 4A, 135-pound class, while teammate Mitch Baker, 140, took fifth.