SAN TAN VALLEY — A wrestling season that often seemed cursed ended in charmed fashion for the Poston Butte Broncos.
The Broncos powered through a pandemic-shortened season — that was initially canceled in January before it ever started — to post their best season in school history on the mat.
Poston Butte finished 14th in the team standings and had three wrestlers finish in the top five at the Division III state tournament Thursday.
Adding to the charmed finish was the fact that the Broncos got to host the state tournament.
“We had the most state qualifiers in school history, which is awesome,” said Traston Yates, in his fifth year coaching the Broncos. “Really excited to have seven (qualifiers), especially hosting the tournament; it’s in our home gym ... and we placed three kids. We’ve never had that many state placers since the school has opened.”
In a season of milestones for the program, Yates also had the opportunity to coach his first wrestler in a state championship match. Hayden Gerritson made it to the finals at 138 pounds before losing an 11-0 major decision to top-seeded Cooper French of Flagstaff Coconino.
Gerritson, a junior who posted a season record of 22-3, pinned his first-round opponent, then picked up a 7-6 decision in the quarterfinals before beating Isaac McKean of Cottonwood Mingus by a 5-1 decision in the semifinals and ending as the state runner-up.
“Hayden didn’t win (the state title), but he handled himself with good character, which is something we’re really working on with all of our boys,” Yates said. “Win, lose or draw, we’re really wanting them to do it the right way ... Even though Hayden lost in the finals, he had a fantastic tournament. He beat some really tough kids.”
Gerritson’s run wasn’t the only impressive one for Poston Butte, as junior Kristopher Carillo took third place at 160, and senior Christopher Fowler finished fifth at 195.
“Kris Carillo, if you had told me at the end of the day that he’d be third in the state, I’d have gone, “Really? That means he had a great tournament,’” Yates said. “He really kicked it in when it mattered. He was in phenomenal shape ... he was in better shape than a lot of the guys he wrestled.”
The other Broncos who qualified for the state tournament were Shevy Landis-Ku (106), Brendon Berny (113), Payton Gerdts (126) and Miles Hammond (170).
Three of the state qualifiers were seniors — Fowler, Gerdts and Hammond — so four of them will return. Yates said his young group is just scratching the surface, and he’s looking to qualify at least 10 wrestlers next year and do more damage with state placers (top six).
And Yates doesn’t have to look far for motivation to improve his program. Another San Tan Valley school, Combs, finished fifth in the team standings and had two state champions in Seth Fernandez (152) and Taniela Taunima (285).
“We’re trying to close the gap on Combs; Combs is solid,” Yates said. “This year our dual was a one-point dual. It was very exciting. Coach (Travis) Miller has got a great crew over there. We’re really trying to put together some home and away-type stuff where it’s really competitive for everybody in the community ... That’s good for us to have that competition just right up the road.”