They did it again. For the second consecutive year, the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks wrestling team captured the Division II state title, and they did so in dominating fashion. The Nighthawks, who sent 13 wrestlers to compete at the state level, earned 204.5 points to defeat their closest competition, Gila Ridge by 54.5 points.
In addition to the team title, three individual wrestlers won their weight class, to include Trevor Willson at 126 pounds, Troy Taylor at 145 pounds, and Matt Filbert at 152 pounds.
Tate Sandifer, who won an individual state title in 2011, placed runner-up this year at 132 pounds.
Willson repeated his 2011 championship performance to take down his second consecutive individual title.
The three individual championships was also a repeat for Ironwood Ridge, having accomplished the same feat in 2011.
Nighthawks’ coach Tim Berrier has clearly found a recipe for success. In his fifth year as head coach, he has now led the Nighthawks to two state titles and two runner-up finishes.
“The plan this year was the same as years past,” he said. “Come in and work hard. We are lucky to have a good group of kids willing to do that.”
Though considered a favorite by many going into state, Berrier said the team was not always viewed as such during the regular season. Due to injuries and late arrivals from the football team, the Nighthawks finished the regular season with a modest 28-12 record.
“We really didn’t have our full team until mid-season,” said Berrier.
Still, the Nighthawks silenced any critics when they beat out Marana to take first in the sectional tournament, and then moved on to trump 47 of Arizona’s most competitive wrestling teams at the state tournament.
The margin of win was even more impressive considering the Nighthawk’s struggle on the first day of state.
“We did not wrestle well on day one,” said Berrier. “There were a couple times we slipped. Gila Ridge was ahead after the first day.”
After the poor day one performance, Berrier left his wrestlers to talk amongst one another. The strategy worked, as the Nighthawks came out fired up on day two to recapture the lead, and eventually the title.
“We know when we haven’t done the best we could,” said Filbert. “We all sat down, and refocused on what we needed to do. It was the last tournament of the year, so we knew we needed to give it everything we had.”
“Joy” was the word Berrier used to describe his feeling following the big win.
“I was really proud of how they wrestled the second day, and how they wrestled all season,” said Berrier. “The first half of the season was a rough start, and a lot of people were counting us out of it. The guys didn’t let that bother them. They didn’t panic during the regular season, and they didn’t panic at state when it looked like things wouldn’t go our way, and that’s one of the life lessons to come out of it.”
The Nighthawks will look for another big appearance at state in 2013, but will do so without some of their star seniors, including Trevor Willson, who will wrestle at Arizona State University next year, and Conner Buette, who will take his talents to the Pima Community College football team.
“We’re looking forward to setting up the dynasty for the kids to come,” said Filbert, who will enter the 2013 year as a senior.
Other Tucson teams finishing strong in the state tournament included Mountain View High School, placing fifth, and Marana High School, placing seventh.