The vaunted Liberty wrestling program is in position to add to its trophy case two weeks before the boys state finals.
Senior Sara Schmoker is the top seed in the girls 145-pound class and the program boasts two other top four seeds as it competes for the inaugural girls state team title.
Girls individual and team state competition begins later this afternoon (March 5) and concludes Saturday, March 6 at Mesquite High School in Gilbert.
"It's very unpredictable. We haven’t seen as many girls and teams then we normally would in a normal season. I believe we have a good chance to compete for that state title as a team. It has been the girls goal from day one. All we can do is lay it on the line and wrestle to our ability. Its going to be fun," stated Liberty coach Eric Brenton in an email interview.
Sophomore Bella Bocenagra is the No. 4 seed at 106 pounds., freshman Taylor Colangelo is No. 2 at 113 pounds. But it starts with Schmoker.
She has plenty of mat experience, gained well before her family moved to Peoria from Montana just before Schmoker's junior year.
"When I was in sixth grade I wanted to play football and my parents wouldn't let me. So I found out that my school was doing co-ed wrestling and I had my parents sign the paperwork and it started from there," Schmoker said.
Girls wrestling was not sanctioned in Montana, so for her first two year Schmoker competed against boys.
Brenton said she arrived at Liberty with all the tools.
"Sara is an athlete. She was good at wrestling but we had the ability to help tighten things up for her. The credit goes to her ... she is the one who wanted to get better and she made that happen for herself," Brenton stated. "One of the biggest changes is her mindset going into a match win or lose. The result is done and time to move forward. Leave the past there."
To a degree, though, Schmoker is driven by the past. She finished 15-1 at 135 pounds during the regular season last year and was the #2 seed entering the state tournament.
Schmoker pinned all three opponents en route to the finals. She lost to Buckeye Odyssey Institute sophomore by an 8-4 decision in the title match.
"I learned that it's really easy to get in your own head. Placing second was definitely hard on me and its pushed me in practice," Schmoker said. "Looking back on that motivates me to make sure I'm working hard. Because I know what I want - a state title."
She and her teammates almost did not get a chance to compete and the first state team title looked like it would wait a year.
The AIA executive board canceled the winter sports season Jan. 8 , but then revoted and reinstated the sports, including wrestling, on Jan. 12.
"Getting our season canceled opened up our eyes and getting it back made me realize this could be it," Schmoker said.
The team is only wrestling dual meets until state, which Schmoker said has led to less matches this season.
She agreed with her coach entering state there are many unkowns with one conference for schools of all sizes from across the state. Also the lack of invitationals means many of the top girls wrestlers in each weigh class have not crossed paths.
"There's a lot of girls in my bracket that I haven't seen this year," Schmoker said. "Our girls have won every single dual. Winning it is definitely one of our goals this year. We think it would be awesome if our guys won state and we won too. We can go down in history for girls wrestling."
She wants to continue wrestling in college.
Schmoker said she is not sure what she will study yet, though she is leaning toward a biology major and physchology minor.
"I'm actually talking to quite a few schools right now," Schmoker said. "It's been a lot harder than I thought it would be. Some colleges aren't having a season while some are. Some aren't even recruiting right now. But I have a top few schools."
Two years ago girls wrestling became an official AIA sport. But Liberty's most famous girls wrestler, Brooke Logan, had just graduated.
After a lull in 2018-19, Schmoker's arrival began to galvanize the girls program.
"Sara was a major spark to our girls program. Her personality and attitude helped draw and keep our women athletes. We explained that we would treat her as a “wrestler” no better no worse because she is a female. She really embraced it and the other ladies feed into that same mindset," Brenton stated.