Placing for the third time in his wrestling career, Salt River High School senior Hosteen Begay-Smith sees his third-place finish at the Ironwood Eagle Invitational wrestling tournament in Glendale as a stepping stone this season.
He said it was a relief to walk away from the tournament with only one loss.
In the first round of the tournament, which was held December 29 and 30, Begay-Smith was dealt a bye. After waiting close to seven hours to compete, Begay-Smith was set to wrestle Apollo High School’s 215-pound wrestler, David Reyes.
Assistant Coach Steve Adams worked with Begay-Smith on various drills to prepare him for the match, and it helped. Begay-Smith pinned Reyes in the second period, after he had an 8-0 lead. “He was not a very experienced wrestler, but he had a lot of strength,” Begay-Smith said.
In the third round, Begay-Smith faced Rudy Mendoza of Tolleson High School and defeated him with a 6-4 decision. Begay-Smith said he was able to outlast him on the mat with more wind. He said this year the program is completing a lot more conditioning.
“The extra conditioning on the mat and running has helped me in the end, and that is what I think about when we are going through it,” he said.
Going into the match, Begay-Smith was slated to wrestle in the 189-pound division, but he did not make weight the morning of competition and was forced to wrestle up one weight class, in the 215-pound division. He said he wasn’t intimidated by the competition.
In the fourth round he was paired with Evan Allen of Prescott. Begay-Smith said he was “pure muscle,” and ended up getting pinned by Allen.
“He was just stronger than me,” he said. “I took him down and felt him pressing into me, and I tried to move his arm up and attack his leg, but I couldn’t break him down.”
Despite the disadvantage in the strength match-up, Begay-Smith said he likes wrestling bigger wrestlers because it makes him stronger as he prepares to wrestle the 189-pounders. Although he lost, the loss was to the eventual champion in the 215-pound division, who was also a very talented wrestler.
As the two final rounds approached, Begay-Smith faced Adam Brooks from Sandra Day O’Connor High School and was able to break him down and win the match, before moving on to face Mendoza once again. He said in the days prior to competing in the Ironwood invitational, he went up against a kid from Florence whom he thought he could dominate, but instead he was defeated. He said that match came to mind prior to taking to the mat against Mendoza again. Begay-Smith beat him and placed third overall in the 215-pound weight class.
Head Coach Marc Hillis said the challenge now is to keep Begay-Smith at the same tempo he was at during the invitational.
“After last season’s loss in regionals, to a guy he beat earlier that season, he knows he has to keep improving in order to prevent from going on a downslide,” he said.
Hillis said when Begay-Smith did not make weight, he knew the wrestler would be successful at the 215-pound division. He said it was just a matter of getting him to perform to his level.
The Salt River wrestling team was represented by three wrestlers at the invitational: Begay-Smith, Blaine Hillis and Taneasha Thomas. Marc Hillis said to compete in the invitational with only three wrestlers and to have one place is a great accomplishment.
“I still get comments from 4A and 5A schools who say they like to see our kids performing at that level,” he said.
Hillis expects a lot from the wrestlers, including the junior high kids. He said at the start of the program, the team would return from an invitational and only have one win, but now they are past that stage and should be getting better and earning more wins.
“It is nice not to be so obscure anymore and to see other coaches recognize our hard work and talent,” Hillis said.