West Valley Preps
The highlight of Ironwood senior Tarik Sutkovic’s march to a third straight state championship may have been watching teammate Stone Aguirre celebrate his first.
Two years ago, Sutkovic was coming off a Division III 220-pound title for Thunderbird. But, dissatisfied with the non-wrestling aspects of the Phoenix school, he decided to transfer.
He chose Ironwood and knew Aguirre the best of his new teammates, having met him on the club wrestling scene.They became training partners and better friends.
On Feb. 9, both Eagles capped their careers with state Division II titles – Aguirre at 195 and Sutkovic at 220.
“I was really happy when he won it. I trained with him the whole season, and in the offseason too. I pushed him,” Sutkovic said. “We definitely talked about it a lot, him winning it.”
He was not the only one at Ironwood rooting for Aguirre, better known to those off campus as the Eagles’ best football linebacker of the past three seasons.
During that time, though, he worked his way up the ladder at 195 pounds, winning a first round match as a sophomore and placing sixth as a junior.
Aguirre said he and Sutkovic talked about winning 195 and 220 back-to-back for two years, and that his 2018 finish was a let down.
When he defeated another well-known football player, Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep junior Brock Lockincar in the finals, the years of dreams and sweat equity came rushing back.
“It’s something I’ve been grabbing for since sophomore year. I remember Tarik telling me that when he won his first state championship, he had a flashback to all the hard practices … I did too. That’s when I started crying tears of joy,” Aguirre said.
Ironwood coach Sean Flanigan stated in an email that he was thrilled for Aguirre and pointed out that he never wrestled before high school.
The coach said Aguirre worked hard during the season and in the weight room, rarely missed a practice and was a regular in off-season tournaments and practices.
“He took care of business in the classroom. And then, last year when he could have won it as a junior he had a bad tournament; yet he shook it off and learned from the experience. Then he came back again to train hard for a year to work on small details to help overcome all wrestling situations. It was especially gratifying after the bizarre series of calls the referee made that kept pushing the match into extra overtimes,” Flanigan said.
Conversely, Sutkovic’s feats have placed him on a separate list from Aguirre and other state champions.
He is a rare three-time state champ. And each year, he was more dominant on his path to the title.
This year, Sutkovic pinned his first two opponents, then faced his lone challenge of the night — Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge junior Christopher Gomez. Sutkovic gutted out a 5-2 win against Gomez, then breezed past Apollo junior James Thompson 11-2 in the finals.
“He wrestled a tough match and wanted to keep the score close – and he did. I still beat him,” Sutkovic said. “The highlight probably was hugging Stone after it. I cried a lot because it’s my last high school match.”
Now his career is one for the history books.
Flanigan made his case through several stats. Throughout his high school career, Sutkovic compiled a 150-12 (including a streak of 92 consecutive wins ended earlier this season) with 77 pins plus 25 technical falls.
Sutkovic scored 369.5 points his senior year (third most in Arizona history) and 34 pins (a school record). His junior year he achieved 238 takedowns in a single season (third most in Arizona history) and 19 technical falls (a school record).
“Tarik Sutkovic is clearly one of the top 10 wrestlers to come through Arizona all-time,” Flanigan stated. “Now what he does after high school will powerfully affect the argument of where he ranks and if he should be considered a top five candidate. But he is a three-time state champion who has defeated state champions from nine different states, is a Virginia Beach All-American as a junior, two-time Fargo greco-roman All-American, Fargo freestyle All-American, and Rocky Mountain National Champion.”
Sutkovic will wrestle his first college season at Clackamas Community College in Oregon while works to improve his academics, he said.
He credited Ironwood for getting him on this path.
“I love it here. Flanigan’s a great coach. He really knows what he’s doing. I’m really blessed to have him – same with my club coach,” Sutkovic said.
Aguirre is weighing wrestling and football offers. His 5-8 frame limits the football offers to smaller schools – but he showed at the state wrestling meet he can overcome taller opponents.
“I wrestled some kid from Williams Field. He was probably about 6-6. He gave me the most struggle and I beat him in overtime. I felt like I was still in control but it was very hard for me to finish my takedowns,” Aguirre said.
While Sutkovic was a huge favorite, Aguirre was not sure he could compete at state until the week of the competition.
“Two weeks before state I tore a ligament in my thumb. It was pretty nasty.” Aguirre said. “Our sports trainer, Michael Suman, helped a lot. He gave me a soft cast to win at state and I was able to wrestle with it.”
Aguirre said, ideally, he’d like to try both sports in college. With Arizona Christian University moving its campus less than two miles north of Ironwood’s, he may not have to look far for that opportunity.
Both Aguirre and Sutkovic remain busy, training for senior (folkstyle) nationals in March. Sutkovic also will compete again in the Fargo national tournament.
Sutkovic said he would like to study communications in college, while Aguirre plans to major in accounting.
They both hope their state titles help Ironwood wrestling get the respect they believe it deserves.
“No one thinks of Ironwood as a perennial powerhouse. I’m hoping me and Tarik laid the foundation. We had another transfer coming in that got fourth at state,” Aguirre said.