Division I state title

Liberty High dominated, with four individual champions, to take the team Division I state title. Liberty has won three wrestling titles in four years. (Photo courtesy Eric Brenton)

A budding dynasty is emerging in Arizona wrestling, as the Liberty High wrestling team won the state team championship.

Again.

Dominating the mat in Prescott last weekend, Liberty High brings a third state title in four years back to Peoria.

Four Liberty wrestlers scored individual titles. 

“I believe we’re moving in the right direction,” said coach Eric Brenton, in perhaps the understatement of the year.

Including Sara Schmoker, who took second place in the girls tournament, 14 Liberty wrestlers qualified for the state match.

The Division 1 competition wasn’t even close, as Liberty scored 228 team points, far ahead of Cibola High’s 173.

Freshman Jayson Flener started things off for Liberty with a fifth-place finish at 106 pounds.

Then came talented sophomore Zander Phaturos, who nailed a 5-2 decision over Noah Kasprowicz of Boulder Creek to take the state title at 113 pounds.

Roman Provenzano, another sophomore, fought his way to fourth place at 120 pounds. Senior  Andrew Correa lost a close quarterfinal match but finished third at 132 pounds.

Tyler Sauter, yet another sophomore, became Liberty’s second state champ of 2020, with a 7-2 victory over Chandler’s Dalton Loyden.

Senior Edgar Delgado was third at 145 pounds and Gage Beaton, also a senior, finished fifth at 152.

Kamyn Stonebraker, 36-4 going into the tournament, capped a dazzling Liberty career. He pinned his first three opponents, then took a 5-2 win over Sebastian Valencia of Cibola for the 160-pound title.

Nicholas Magri, another senior, battled to fourth-place at 170 pounds.

Matthew Stevenson, 47-2 as the Prescott tournament started, destroyed his competition. Like Stonebraker, he pinned his first three opponents, then dominated the final at 182 pounds with an 11-4 win over Makai Obregon, who started the tournament 42-4 and had two pins and a 15-1 major decision in early rounds.

Gavin Dodge, a sophomore, finished fifth at 195 pounds.

Heavyweight Frank Thompson, a senior, closed his Liberty wrestling career on the podium with a fourth place finish at 285 pounds.

 “I hope we have a good reputation,” said Brenton, the king of low-key statements. “In our  area, there’s a lot of good wrestling programs.”

The spark for the team at Prescott, Brenton said, came not by superstars like Stevenson and Stonebraker, but by Magri, a true grinder who had a hard time getting varsity mat time last year.

“He blossomed late. He was behind tough kids all the time during his high school career,” Brenton said.

After a loss in the quarterfinal, Magri pinned his opponent in a consolation round to finish fourth. “It set off a chain of events, we just started winning and winning,” the coach said.

“That Magri, a lot of kids would have quit, but he stuck it out,” Brenton said.

“Everybody loves him. He’s one of the hardest workers in the room. He’s a total team player.”

The senior champs Stonebraker and Stevenson will be wrestling in college, though they have not made decisions yet.

For other seniors, they may never wrestle again, as they go on to focus on college studies.

“A lot of seniors who came up from our little kids program, they  wrestled their last matches Friday night. It was bittersweet. They went out there and left it all on the mat,” said Brenton, the Liberty wrestling coach since 2006.

“For every coach it’s the heartbreak moment: Watching a senior hang up his wrestling shoes for the last time.”