The Ironwood Ridge wrestling team will be spending its New Year's Eve outside the comfort of Arizona's mild winter.
Last year's Division II state champions were invited to the 10th edition of The Clash National High School Wrestling Duals held in Rochester, Minn., to compete against some of the top programs in the nation.
"I don't think I have any jackets big enough for Minnesota," said Ironwood Ridge wrestler Matt Filbert. "Hopefully we can stay inside most of the time."
But the cold is only one of the problems the Nighthawks face going into the tournament. Ironwood Ridge's three individual state champions - Trevor Willson, Tate Sandifer and Connor Buette - all suffered knee injuries earlier in the year. Buette and Sandifer won last year's 119- and 125-pound titles, respectively, and Willson won the 103-pound title in the 2009-2010 season. Buette underwent surgery on his knee last Friday.
Ironwood Ridge coach Tim Berrier still has hope that Willson and Sandifer will be able to come back, but in the meantime he is looking for someone to step into the leadership role.
"Those three were our high-energy guys," said Berrier. "They were the ones who really brought the intensity to our practices. And part of our problem is that nobody has stepped into that spot."
Berrier said Willson will take part in 75 percent of a practice, and Sandifer will participate in about half. While Berrier wonders if his top wrestlers will be back in time, he also has to worry about filling some of the other holes in his lineup.
Currently the Nighthawks are missing wrestlers for the 182-, 220- and 285-pound weight classes.
The tournament starts next Friday. The team will fly into Minnesota on Wednesday, will practice Thursday and will spend the rest of the time mentally preparing for the tournament.
"I don't think there's much sightseeing in Rochester anyway," said Berrier.
Ironwood Ridge opens the tournament against national powerhouse Brandon High School from Florida. From 1973 to 2008, Brandon held the longest winning streak in the history of any high school sport, winning 459 straight team duals.
"Coach Berrier always tells us that you want to face the best," said 145-pound wrestler Troy Taylor. "I feel like the team has trained hard enough to really compete with these nationally ranked teams."
Despite the things working against him and his team, Berrier is excited about being included in the national tournament.
"It's a win-win deal," said Berrier. "Everything that could have gone wrong has. But hopefully all of our bad luck is out of our system by now.
"I have five kids that have been in enough big tournaments to be comfortable. I'm excited for the kids that I know can compete, and it'll be great experience for the younger guys."