Sunnyside seizing opportunity to continue title run

Sunnyside’s only home wrestling match of the year Wednesday did not have any fanfare, an extravagant trophy ceremony or even the smell of home cooked Mexican food in the entranceway of the gymnasium like the usual atmosphere there.

All it had was wrestling when Chandler Basha visited, and to a man, the Blue Devils will take that.

“It was definitely fun after so many times of ups and downs, uncertainty and living day to day,” said two-time state champion Jaime Rivera, a junior trying to match Sunnyside great Roman Bravo-Young with four state titles throughout his career.

COVID-19 prevented a celebration for the three-time defending state champions, a dynasty of a program with 33 titles, when the Blue Devils defeated Basha 57-12 in their season opener.

Sunnyside poses for the camera after a successful start to the season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

It appeared the pandemic would claim Sunnyside’s chance to build on the state title streak early last month. The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board canceled winter sports, including wrestling, on Dec. 8, but four days later after a public uproar, it reversed its decision and allowed the competition with strict regulations including the use of facemasks and only two parents or guardians at home events.

The Sunnyside Unified School District, along with the Tucson Unified School District, Amphitheater School District and Salpointe Catholic, are not allowing spectators at all.

Anthony Leon is trying to coach Sunnyside to its fourth straight state title (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“It was a hard situation for me and all of the coaches when we found out we were not going to wrestle,” said Sunnyside assistant coach Raymond Piña, a two-time state championship wrestler at the school from 2006-09.

“It was hard to break it to these kids because that’s all they do. It’s part of their lives. … Any little chance they gave us, we’re grateful for it and we’re going to take full opportunity of it, for sure.”

That’s the theme of the winter season for all the athletes from soccer to basketball to wrestling: “Take full opportunity of it.”

Seniors James Brown (120 pounds) and Sebastian Robles (160) are hopeful of landing a scholarship to a Division 1 program.

Brown (state runner-up at 120 pounds last season) beat his opponent by fall in 1:20 in the first period on Thursday while Robles did not attend the match for personal reasons.

Brown is being recruited by Iowa State among others and Robles (the 145-pound state champ a year ago) is getting interest from Iowa, which signed Sunnyside’s three-time state champ Jesse Ybarra last year.

“I’ve been on a state championship team every year I’ve been here,” Brown said. “We’re competitive. We don’t like losing. Nobody in there (pointing to Sunnyside’s workout room) likes losing.”

Take full opportunity of it.

Rivera is halfway to matching Bravo-Young’s four individual state titles in as many years. That goal means everything to him.

He already had his future lined up, committing to the West Point U.S. Military Academy last September. Becoming a nuclear engineer is a potential goal of his.

“I feel like today was the first step toward the guarantee of our season,” said Rivera, who won the 132-pound state title last year and competed up a weight class against Basha at 152 pounds.

He won by fall in 1:28 of the first period, exhibiting his strength by pinning his opponent’s shoulders to the mat while locking the arms behind the back.

Piña, an assistant to head coach Anthony Leon for three seasons, said Rivera fits the mold of a Sunnyside wrestler who has made the sport his livelihood.

“Everyone, from our coaching staff to every kid in there, we absolutely love working hard and grinding every day,” Piña said. “I think that’s what separates us apart from everyone else. Our kids, like Jaime, love it. And it’s not just a sport to us. It’s our life. We make this a lifestyle.”

Take full opportunity of it.

Mike Avelar, a sophomore at 160 pounds, made the bold move of transferring from Walden Grove, which has a reputable wrestling program.

He made a memorable Sunnyside debut pinning his opponent from Basha in 1:10 of the first period.

“Looking at all the kids they send to Division I, I just wanted to be a part of that,” said Avelar, whose dad Rick Jr. has coached football at Walden Grove and brother Rick III played for the Red Wolves before attending Dayton.

Not having a season would be a serious detriment to that goal of drawing Division I interest for Avelar. It would mean being out of the Sunnyside limelight for two full years before wrestling again in about nine to ten months (COVID-19 permitting).

Recent Division 1 performers from Sunnyside include Bravo-Young (Penn State), Anthony Echemendia (Ohio State) and Ybarra (Iowa). Brown, Robles and Rivera will likely join that group in the next year to two years.

“There’s a lot of expectations, and I like that pressure,” Mike Avelar said. “It makes you wrestle harder. I like it.”

Sunnyside 59, Basha 12

Listing of how Sunnyside wrestlers fared:

106 pounds: Cesar Vasquez, won by forfeit

113: Jamie Armstrong, won by forfeit

120: James Brown, won by fall, 1:20, first period, over Kayden Galarmeau

126: Victor Lopez, won by fall, 1:59, first period, over David Griffin

132: Eduardo Grajeda, won by fall, 1:28, second period, over Corbin Atkinson

138: Cristian Rivera, won by technical fall, 15-0, over Diego McAdam

145: Both teams forfeit

152: Jaime Rivera, won by fall, 1:28, first period, over Brennan Gionnotti

160: Mike Avelar, won by fall, 1:10, first period, over Connor Peterson

170: Rene Fregoso, won by fall, 1:20, first period, over Josh Slinkman

182: Richard Escalante, lost, 6-4 decision, to Easton Jones

195: Andrew Gonzalez, lost by fall, 1:28, second period, to Eli Haney

220: Obed Craft, won, 12-6 decision, over Abraham Lopez

285: Jacion Taylor won by forfeit


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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