Basha, Liberty renew title hopes as more programs expand in Arizona

Arizona’s 2021-2022 women’s wrestling season is now underway as teams begin participating in invitations to prepare for the 3rd annual State Wrestling Tournament on Feb. 18.

Before the pandemic, girls’ wrestling in high school was a new but growing sport.

Three years ago, the Arizona Interscholastic Association sanctioned women’s wrestling as an emerging sport for individual competitors, which led to the first state girls’ wrestling tournament in 2020-2021. Five years ago, Basha High School kicked off its girls’ wrestling program and it became the first state team champion girl wrestling last season.

Basha’s goal this season is to defend her state title, according to head coach Michael Garcia.

As the sport continues to grow, so do Garcia’s team, who have added five more girls to the roster.

“We’ve had a really good response here at school from a lot of the girls and a lot of help from the teachers and coaches who are really encouraging the girls to come out,” Garcia said.

With the loss of four seniors last year and the absence of defending 170-pound champion Trinity Bouchal due to an ACL injury, the Bears have added younger members to their squad. Despite the new members, Basha still hopes to encourage more girls to join the lower weight classes by mid-season, Garcia said. Bouchal was one of three female wrestlers from Basha to win individual state titles in their weight class at last season’s state tournament.

“The girls themselves build the program by talking to other girls and encouraging them to come out,” Garcia said.

As the sport continues to grow, so does the competition. For the Bears, the challenge this season will be competing against tough teams as other programs continue to develop and grow.

Women’s wrestling has only one division in the AIA competition, with schools divided into sections. The boys have four divisions.

In addition, the women’s teams only compete at the university level, while for the boys there are also university junior and first year levels.

Garcia says state programs are improving as they continue to grow, and he expects competition to be tougher this season as a result.

“The girls’ fight in general has improved a lot, the teams that came behind us last year just get better, we have our work cut out for us and we know it,” said Garcia.

As state runner-up Liberty looks to challenge Basha for the state title again, like Basha, the program hopes to continue developing the sport, head coach Eric Brenton said.

The Liberty team have put extra time and effort into wrestling this offseason. The program has lost only one senior compared to last season, but still hope that the addition of young talent will strengthen the squad.

“We’ve had a lot of new girls joining the program so we’re excited as a program and hope to take that next step and put ourselves in a position where we can win the ultimate and put so many girls on top of it. podium as possible, ”said Brenton.

The Lion State’s 106-pound champion last season, Bella Bocenagra, is looking to lead the team again this year after competing at the national championships this summer.

“Our team is constantly growing and with the success of the boys and girls program it is exciting to develop both sides of the program,” said Brenton.

Along with Basha and Liberty, Casteel also appears to be a top contender this season. Mesa Westwood, Canyon Del Oro, Campo Verde, Centennial and Millennium are other programs that put in a strong performance in the State Finals last season with top three finishes for various weight classes that could make some noise. .

Basha and Liberty will participate in the Millennium High School Invitational on December 4th.