Heading into the 2010-11 Division IV State Wrestling Championships in Prescott on February 11-12, the Salt River Eagles wrestling team knew they had a good chance to earn their way onto the medal stand. Head coach Marc Hillis knew Hosteen Begay-Smith and Lloyd Lewis, who qualified for the state tournament, were going to be tough competition for their opponents and was confident they could be successful.
Begay-Smith entered the state tournament as the No. 16 seed and drew the No. 1 seed as his first competitor in the state tournament. Justin Rockhill from Wilcox entered the tournament having only lost two matches the entire season. Begay-Smith was pinned by Rockhill in 56 seconds. In his next match he faced No. 8 seeded Brandon Riley from Alchesay and defeated him 8-2. Next up was Justin McCray from Snowflake, who Begay-Smith managed to climb one point ahead on and won 4-3. Valley Lutherans Nate Saari was ranked No. 13 and gave Begay-Smith a test on the mat. Saari pulled ahead 6-2 to send him to wrestle in the 5th and 6th place match. He wrestled Jacob Goodsell from Round Valley and lost 4-2. He finished No. 6 overall and ended the season 41-23. He was the first wrestler in Salt River High School history to ever place at the state championship tournament.
Begay-Smith said going up against the No. 1 seed; he knew it would be tough competition.
“I just thought if I can battle him and make him work hard before he pins me that would be good,” he said.
After waiting several hours for his second match of the tournament, he said he was working through moves and technique in his head in order to prepare. As he headed into Saturday’s competition knowing he had to fight his way through nearly the entire bracket in order to finish a place holder, he said he was nervous, but just kept focused on what he needed to do.
“I knew at state my competition would be bigger than me, but in my next match he was skinnier and smaller than me. He was faster than me too,” he said. “I tried a couple of shots on him, but he just evaded them and he kept trying and I kept waiting for him to shoot, but he would go in all the way. I would try to sprawl on him, but he would just get up.”
He realized while on the bottom, he could work his way out easily.
“I have been wrestling for so long I knew he was trying to grab my arm or leg so those were the first things I moved and was able to beat him,” Begay-Smith said.
He said he feels lucky to be able to leave a mark on Salt River.
“My win was overshadowed by Lloyd’s (Lewis) win, but it was great to get to be there with him and watch him wrestle and bond with him too,” he explained.
Lewis began his state tournament run as the No. 3 seed. He faced Rance Allen of Round Valley in the first match and defeated him 10-6. Rigo Guitierrez of Beaver Dam was his next opponent and he was able to pin him at the 2:51 mark.
In the semi-finals Lewis was going up against the No. 2 seed from Globe Michael Echevarria. Despite his higher ranking, Lewis was able to pin him as well as the 1:41 mark. Morenci wrestler Mark Martinez won his first three matches on three straight pins, but when he faced Lewis in the final the tables were turned. Lewis was able to put Martinez on his back and earn the pin for the championship win.
“I started wrestling him and just wanted to see what he was all about. I tried going for his legs and tried snapping him down, to check to see if he was weak on his legs, but he kept making mistakes and I saw that. So in the second round he made a mistake and I caught it and pinned him,” Lewis explained.
Lewis said his face told the entire story. He couldn’t believe he actually won because he thought going up against a senior he was sure to lose. He said being crowned the first state wrestling champion from Salt River was a great accomplishment.
“It feels so good because people can’t look down on Salt River wrestling anymore,” he said.
Lewis displayed tremendous sportsmanship on the mat and said he loves the sport and continues to wrestle because it is fun. He said no matter who he meets on the mat, win or lose, at the end he will thank them and share a smile for the great competition.
Lewis finished his season 31-7 overall, while Begay-Smith wrapped up his senior season with a record of 41-23.
Head wrestling coach Marc Hillis said state was much more difficult to make with the combining of six former divisions into four.
“I challenged the wrestlers throughout the season, never making wrestling easy on them or the rest of the team,” he said. “All of them that lasted until the end of the season met the challenge.”
Hillis also thanks his two assistant coaches Simon Smith and Steve Adams for all their help this season.
“It wouldn’t have been possible if the three of us weren’t able to juggle them between practice and competition because it wasn’t easy,” he explained.
With the recent success of the Salt River wrestling program Hillis is hoping it will spark the interest of other student-athletes and their program will continue to grow with dedicated wrestlers eager to learn and prosper as people and on the mats.
“I have been working hard with the wrestling program and it feels like it has paid off with two state place finishers, including a state champion,” he said. “I am just proud of these two guys (Lewis and Begay-Smith).”