APACHE JUNCTION — The goal last year for Combs was to win the sectional tournament.
That goal was accomplished, as the Coyotes sent eight wrestlers to the state wrestling tournament in Prescott Valley.
While the goal remains the same this year for Combs, coach Travis Miller knows if the Coyotes are going to repeat at next month’s Division III, Section II tournament, they will have go through a buzzsaw – individual section champions that could be state placers.
“Traditionally there could have been other tougher sections, but this year (D-III, Section II) is going to be tough,” Miller said. “The northern (sections) are tough and the (sections) in Tucson are tough, but this one definitely has a handful of state placers and state champions. This section is gong to be no joke.”
In addition to Combs, this year’s section tournament, which will be held Feb. 8th at Poston Butte High School, will include the Broncos along with fellow Pinal County schools Apache Junction, Florence and American Leadership Academy-Ironwood. Miller said he feels the top teams in the section are going to be the teams that reside along Ironwood Road in Combs, Poston Butte and Apache Junction, along with Tempe High and Mesa Thunderbird.
“There’s a lot of parity so it’s going to come down to the wire,” Poston Butte coach Traston Yates said. “Everywhere you look (at state), there’s a D-III, Section II guy. We have a lot of good things wrestling wise in this little area.”
The Broncos won the team title at the Prospector Invitational on Saturday after finishing in a three-way tie with Combs and Arizona College Prep. Due to the tournament tiebreakers, the Coyotes finished third and Poston Butte wrestled against Arizona College Prep to determine the tournament team champion.
“We are having a really good season,” Yates said. “This is my fourth year as the head coach. We are hitting our stride. These are my boys, and they are trained to the way I want them to wrestle.”
Yates said he hopes to qualify 10 wrestlers for state and added that some of the wrestlers left last year’s state meet with a bad taste in their mouths and have been motivated all year to return.
One of those wrestlers who has a chip on his shoulder is Shane Landis Ku, who finished one match shy of being a state placer.
“He really feels like he needs a state medal to cement his legacy at Poston Butte,” Yates said.
The 120-pounder, Landis Kue won an individual champion at this weekend’s tournament in Apache Junction and became just the second wrestler at Poston Butte to have 100 career wins.
“That’s something that we like to celebrate with the kids because we are trying to build history,” Yates said. “Poston Butte doesn’t have a lot of history with wrestling, and we are trying to build it.”
If the Broncos are to win this year’s section tournament, they will still have to get past the defending champion Coyotes.
Combs brought 13 wrestlers Saturday’s tournament and placed nine while keeping Miller busy walking back and forth from the third-place and first-place matches.
“We had an excellent showing,” Miller said. “It was good with how our guys wrestled against Poston, plus it was a rivalry dual for us. We have some really good kids and I was happy to win that. In my opinion, that was truly the championship matchup.”
Miller said his strongest weight classes this year are at 145 and heavyweight, where both wrestlers placed at state.
Taniela Taunima returns after finishing third in heavyweight last year at state. On Saturday he won his match and entered the weekend with an 11-2 record.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes have been without the services of transfer Seth Fernandez. The junior transferred from Queen Creek after he finished fourth in the Division I state tournament at 138.
Miller said Fernandez could’ve wrestled this weekend, but kept him out as he continues recover from knee surgery.
With both Taunima and Fernandez along with other state qualifiers, the Coyotes hope to have the same if not better success this year at state, where the Coyotes placed three.
“That’s been our thing the last few years is to have guys in the finals and have guys placing and being in the top 10 (in team standings) at state,” Miller said. “That’s where we usually hang out, but our goal is to get to the top five.”