Members of the state-champion Sunnyside wrestling team gathered at Wings Over Broadway at Camino Seco on Wednesday night in a celebration of a program that has won five straight championships and 35 overall.
Nine individual state champions were present, including sophomore Audrey Jimenez, who won her second consecutive state championship last month.
Jimenez, the top-rated female wrestler at 106 pounds in the nation, revealed at the gathering that she has made it a goal to earn enough credits to graduate in three years in order to concentrate on training for a potential Olympic berth in 2024 at Paris.
“My goal overall is to be an Olympic champ so graduating my junior year will leave my senior to have more time to train and travel and better my chances of making the Olympic team for 2024,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez is a pioneer of highly successful female wrestling in Southern Arizona.
She became the first individual state champion from the Tucson-area as a freshman last year before repeating as champion last month at Phoenix.
Two months after winning the state title last year, Jimenez earned the 2021 United World Wrestling (UWW) U.S. cadet women’s freestyle national championship at 49 kilograms (108 pounds) at Irving, Texas.
She returned from the 2021 Cadet World Championships at Hungary, Budapest, with a bronze medal in the 49 kg (108-pound) weight class.
Jimenez made more history again last September beating fellow standout Paige Morales in the 106-pound competition of FloWrestling’s first all-girls card of its Who’s Number One competition at Dallas.
“Taking a year to train for the Olympics, just making a run at it … you only get a few chances,” Sunnyside coach Anthony Leon said of Jimenez’s decision to graduate early.
Sunnyside great Roman Bravo-Young, a four-time state champ who went unbeaten with the Blue Devils, will also train for the 2024 Olympics.
Jimenez, the 2021 AllSportsTucson.com Southern Arizona Female Athlete of the Year, was joined at Wings Over Broadway by other standouts of the Sunnyside girls wrestling program, including Soleil Ponce, Jenell Rodriguez and Hilaria Burruel.
VIDEO INTERVIEWS WITH ALL NINE OF SUNNYSIDE’S INDIVIDUAL STATE CHAMPS AND COACH ANTHONY LEON
Members of the boys program, including a school-record eight individual state champions, were also on hand:
Sergio Vega (a freshman at 113 pounds)
James Armstrong (120)
Carlos Stanton (126)
Cristian Rivera (132)
Jaime Rivera (150)
Job Lee (157)
Michael Avelar (165)
Rene Fragoso (190)
Vega, the son of three-time state champion Danny Vega Sr. of Sunnyside, was selected the Jets Sports Training Male Athlete of the Month for February after capping a 40-0 season with seven wins in the sectional and state tournaments by either fall or technical fall.
Jaime Rivera, a three-time state champ, is headed to the United States Military Academy West Point (Army) to wrestle this fall.
“I’m excited to keep moving forward and wrestling at the next level — it’s going to be tough,” Jaime said. “I’m not sure of redshirting or not. I know it’s going to be a different feel but I’m super excited all in all.”
The Sunnyside wrestlers made the comment that Leon pushes them as much in the classroom as in the wrestling training room and it shows with their demeanor and respectful behavior.
“We’re trying to lead the way there with character,” Leon said. “These kids are good kids. … They’re wise beyond their years. I love this team. It’s a great team.”
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.