Anthony Birchak is back for his second try at Pima College wrestling — and this time he is ready.
Birchak, a former standout wrestler at Sahuarita High School, joined the Pima club team in 2004 as a freshman. But after becoming discouraged, he left midway through the season with a 1-6 record.
"It was depressing," Birchak said. "It made me feel like I wasn't good enough. I wasn't thinking it'd be easy, but I thought I'd do a lot better."
After taking a semester off, he headed to William Penn, an NAIA school in Oskaloosa, Iowa, which offered him a scholarship.
Birchak redshirted the 2005 season. But he was not happy there, either.
"The snow killed me," he said. "I stayed hibernating in my dorm all day."
Thinking college might not be for him, he left after a semester, returned home and worked manual labor jobs, laying down roofs and asphalt. But he did not enjoy working in the hot sun and became interested in wrestling again after participating in tournaments during the summer.
Birchak began taking classes at Pima last fall and returned to the wrestling team. As a sophomore, he has compiled a 7-6 record at 133 pounds against wrestlers from NCAA schools and junior colleges.
"I felt bad because I left, and coach (Joe) Solorio told me his door was open if I wanted to come back, and I like it a lot more here."
Solorio said he is glad to have him back.
"Anthony has really applied himself," Solorio said. "Everything I've told him to do, he's done, whether it's talking to the counselors to make sure he's on track academically, or showing up for things we're doing.
"He's there, whereas two years ago, he had a little bit of a prima donna attitude. He's definitely stepping up and doing the things that need to be done and he's wrestling well."
Birchak said he had to mature, learn to balance school, wrestling and a social life, and realize he can't dominate every wrestling match. Two years ago, he struggled with academics, Bs, Cs, a D and even an F. Now he has Bs in general studies.
"It was the whole scene pretty much (in his freshman year)," he said. "Class is different. No one is watching me, hounding me to do my stuff. I decided to do a little partying when I should have done a little more studying and working out. That's what I've limited myself to this year, being able to capitalize more on my free time.
"Now I know what I've got to do, when I've got to do it. I'm the one who drives me."
Birchak said he hopes to become an All-American at the junior college nationals. Solorio said he is one of Pima's up-and-coming wrestlers.
"He's very athletic and very intuitive, and a hard worker," Solorio said.
In other sports
● The men's basketball team returns to action on Jan. 5-6 at the T-Bird Shootout at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, N.M. The Aztecs are 5-7 overall, 4-2 in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.
● The women's basketball team resumes action Jan. 8, playing host to Howard Community College at 4 p.m. at the west campus gym.