After guiding his team to a tie with Mountain View as the Division II state runner-up last season, longtime Cienega wrestling coach Marty Niblo didn’t know what this winter had in store.
Niblo was recovering from complications from a surgery over last summer and wasn’t sure he was going to be able to coach the Bobcats, who were coming of their best finish since winning the 4A-I state title in 2009.
However, Niblo hasn’t missed much as an assistant while Dan Brown fills in as interim coach.
“I’m acting the part, but on paper my assistant coach is in charge,” said Niblo, who had a follow-up surgery put off until after the season. “It’s been my program since 2003. I can stand, I can talk to kids, I can do all this, so I’m doing it.”
And doing it well.
The Bobcats are hoping to build on last weekend’s 10th place finish at the Flowing Wells Invitational with a strong showing at Salpointe Catholic’s Diego Gadea Wrestling Tournament beginning Friday.
The only other Division II team ahead of Cienega at Flowing Wells was defending state champion Yuma Cibola.
Here’s a look at why Niblo didn’t want to miss out on coaching this season:
The basics: Senior, 113 pounds, 32-6
The lowdown: Ayala might have moved up a weight class but the results remain the same. He won at the Mountain View Duals for a second straight season and is adjusting to what his coach considers a stacked group. Ayala placed fifth at state last year at 106 pounds.
Niblo’s take: “He gets into the legs well because he has such a nice reach. He has a fabulous cradle from the top position. That’s usually a pin for him. If he uses his length appropriately, he’s be tough to beat.”
The basics: Senior, 132 pounds, 33-6
The lowdown: Manriquez has avenged two of his six losses already, was named most outstanding wrestler at Gilbert Perry’s Puma Duals and finished fourth at Flowing Wells. Manriquez finished sixth at state last year at his current weight.
Niblo’s take: “When he gets hot, he’s so dangerous. He could be down 8-1 and come back and pin you or just as quick be beating you by double digits. He’s a little unorthodox, but has great hips and isn’t really afraid in any position.”
The basics: Senior, 145 pounds, 41-3
The lowdown: Brown’s drop in weight this season is paying off; he was the 152-pound state runner-up last season after a 5-3 double-overtime loss in the championship match. Already Cienega’s career wins leader with 144, Brown is on pace to break the single-season mark of 49.
Niblo’s take: “He loves wrestling. He’s dedicated; he wants to wrestle in college and has the makeup to do it.”
The basics: Senior, 195 pounds, 36-4
Season so far: Vera-Jackson is the team’s single-season record holder for wins and proved he’ll be a force again down the stretch. His third-place finish at Flowing Wells was the highest of any Bobcat, and a fourth-place finish at Flowing Wells in 2014 translated into a second-place finish at state. He lost 4-1 in the 195 pound final.
Niblo’s take: “He hasn’t lost to anybody in Division II; his overall season has been dominant.”