By Kevin Cloe
For two days this weekend, the Wickenburg High School gymnasium will be packed with wrestlers, parents and fans as the Wranglers host their annual 16-team Are You Tuff Enuff Invitational Wrestling Tournament.
The tournament is an early preview of the 2019-20 season for the 16 participating teams, with team matches beginning at 8 a.m. Friday (Dec. 6) and continuing throughout the day. On Saturday, the individual matches for the 14 weight categories get under way around 9 a.m. and continue to the championship round around 4 p.m.
Throughout the two days, four wrestling mats cover the gym floor to give fans in the usually full grandstands non-stop action.
For the Wranglers, Coach Aaron Grote will be guiding his wrestlers through the process with hopes of picking up at least a couple medals. He has four returning competitors from last year’s team — senior Caleb Dreher at 152 pounds, junior Daniel Rodriguez at 132 pounds, and sophomores Vince Rodriguez (120) and Michael Bowie (182).
His team this year consists of four freshmen and two other upperclassmen who will be competing in the sport for the first time.
Vince Rodriguez reached the Division IV state championships last year as a freshman in the 106-pound weight class and capped his season with a 17-13 record. He had qualified for the state tournament by placing third in the previous week’s sectional tournament.
Vince and Daniel Rodriguez, along with Dreher, competed in the tournament last year but were all eliminated in their consolation rounds — with Vince reaching the consolation semifinals before bowing out.
Coach Grote said he has 11 wrestlers this season and probably won’t be able to fill four or five of the weight classes for competitions this year.
He also reported that last year’s tournament winner, Chino Valley, will not be returning to defend its title this year. The teams that competed in the tournament last year and are expected to compete again this weekend include Valley Christian, Lake Havasu, Youngker, San Tan Foothills, Fountain Hills, San Pasqual, Cactus Shadows, Yuma Catholic, Dysart, Northwest Christian, Mayer, Poston Butte and Moon Valley.