170-pound contender

James Thomas of St. Johns finished fourth at 145 pounds at last year’s Division 4 wrestling finals. This season he is 13-0 in the 170-pound weight class.

The St. Johns wrestling team took on Division 4 power Yuma Catholic on Thursday in the team’s final contest before the state tournament begins on March 16-17 at Florence Poston Butte High School.

Despite two-and-a-half months of practice, the Redskins are just 11-2 in dual matches in this abbreviated season with no tournaments before the state finals, all due to a second spike in COVID-19 cases between November and January.

Head coach Brandon Crosby says the big challenge this time of year is getting his wrestlers enough experience to compete at state. Much of the team’s schedule has been against larger Division 3 programs.

“We are all sick to death of the restrictions,” said the coach. “It’s been a long season but these guys have come in and just flat out gone to work every single day.  We would’ve had typically 50-plus matches by now and it is getting extremely hard to replicate that experience.”

With 12 wrestlers, all with winning records, St. Johns should once again be in the hunt for a state title, along with perennial powers Eloy Santa Cruz and Morenci, along with a pair of up-and-coming challengers Heber Mogollon and Yuma Catholic. Mogollon’s 10 wrestlers are extremely strong, possibly strong enough to overcome the lack of three upperweights when it comes to team scoring.

“The team race is up for grabs,” Coach Crosby said. “Mogollon, Yuma Catholic and Morenci will all be very difficult to beat at the state tournament. All three are hard nosed and experienced. Santa Cruz, who has won the last two titles, was decimated by transfers but still have some very tough individuals.

The Redskins are led by James Thomas (170 pounds), who is 13-0 this season, Ren Crosby (12-1) at 152 pounds, Kyson Price (12-1) at 220, Wes Scarbrough (11-1, 132), Slade Nevins (11-1, 195) and Nicholas Patterson (11-1, 285). Jacob Skousen is 3-1 in limited action and Ryan Lewis (182) is 5-2. J.T. Richardson (145) is 9-3 and the other three on the team – Dion Perry (126), Peter Casey (138) and Jace Chlarson (160) – each have four losses.

The state finals will consist of the top 16 wrestlers statewide in a two-day, double-elimination tournament.

The adjusted season means all the state’s teams are dealing with inexperience. That makes predictions on this year’s tournament hard to make.

“We have no idea what to expect from our individuals except for them to do their very best and represent Redskin wrestling like they always do,” said the coach. “We should have many podium (top six) finishers.“

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