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Pirates rally around Amuchastegui

There was a distinctly different feel inside the Phoenix wrestling room this week.

Not only are the Pirates preparing for the Skyline Conference district tournament on Saturday, but they are also adapting to life without junior leader Luke Amuchastegui, a 152-pounder who was an overwhelming favorite to win a state title before suffering a broken ankle in his final match of the regular season last weekend.

"It's just terrible," Phoenix coach John Farmer said of the injury. "A bad thing happened to a great kid."

As the Pirates returned to practice earlier this week, senior 189-pounder Alex Machado said, "You can tell it's a little different. Everyone is a lot more quiet today."

The injury occurred in the finals of the North Valley Tournament last Saturday. Amuchastegui, the No. 1 ranked 152-pounder in Class 4A, led 1-0 with 20 seconds remaining against Glide senior Cole Walker.

Amuchastegui attempted a single leg takedown, but Walker countered with a three-in-a-row — in which the wrestler jumps to the side and usually falls to the mat with the opponent — and Amuchastegui's leg was turned the wrong way with all of his weight on it.

In one unfortunate twist, his season was over.

Amuchastegui broke two bones in the ankle.

"His foot was pointing the wrong direction," Farmer said. "It looked very ugly."

It's been an emotional transition for the team without Amuchastegui. The Pirates were a slight favorite heading into the district meet at Hidden Valley before the injury.

"I was shocked," senior 135-pounder Ryan Tourville said of seeing his teammate lost for the season.

That's a difficult image to shake for many Phoenix wrestlers.

"Immediately after it happened, we had guys bawling, knowing it was over for him," Machado said. "He's such a great athlete, you want to see him excel."

Amuchastegui was having a brilliant junior season. The state-runner up last year was 34-2 this season, one of those losses resulting from an injury default due to an illness, and was undefeated at the Class 4A level.

"Out of anybody in the state, he was maybe the most favored to win his weight class," Farmer said. "There was a big gap between him and the number two kid."

Amuchastegui underwent surgery last Sunday and will be on crutches for eight weeks.

"It was pretty disappointing for me and my family," Amuchastegui said. "But that's the way it goes. This all happened for a reason. I can't change anything. I just have to work hard this summer and go after it again."

The encouragement of his teammates — many of whom unsuccessfully lobbied Farmer to make a visit to the hospital on the bus ride home from the North Valley Tournament — has since allowed Amuchastegui to maintain a positive outlook.

"My teammates were really, really supportive," Amuchastegui said. "They all came on the mat and helped me off. I'm glad to have such a great team.

"I've received a lot of support and farewell. I'm in a good spot here. I'm lucky to have the family and friends that I do. I'm looking forward to getting back on the mat and ready for my senior year."

As for the Pirates, they returned to work looking to rally around the loss.

Farmer said the team discussed the injury in its first day back to practice on Monday.

"We sat down and talked about how sad we are for Luke — everyone is just heartbroken" said Farmer, adding that many other teams and coaches at the tournament also expressed their support. "He worked hard all year. But being wrestlers, we know that's always a scary part of it. It can happen at any time.

"We're all happy that it's an injury that's not going to go beyond this year, and that he'll be able to come back probably 100 percent next year. That was a sigh of relief for everybody. Then you say, 'OK, let's just work harder.'"

If the Pirates, who were unbeaten in conference duals this season, are to unseat Illinois Valley for the Skyline district title, they'll need a host of wrestlers to step up in Amuchastegui's absence.

Senior Emmett Hettum assumes the top spot at 152.

Farmer is also looking for strong performances from Machado and 160-pounder Josh Warden, both top seeds in the district.

Machado claimed the 189 title at the North Valley tournament.

"That's probably the best I've ever wrestled," Machado said. "Once the injury happened, it got me pumped for my next match. I was just wrestling for Luke."

Tourville was fifth at state last season but will likely enter districts as the No. 2 seed as will freshman Eleazar Deluca at 140.

Other Phoenix contenders include 130-pound junior Robbie Blubaugh, who is returning from a back injury, and 171-pound junior Brett Carder.

Heavyweight John Florey is also back from a torn meniscus.

"You are not going to replace Luke Amuchastegui," Farmer said. "Luke scores a lot of points. But having five guys doing better would close the gap. Right up the line, everybody's got to step up.

"I know some of the kids will definitely be inspired to go out and wrestle better because Luke isn't there."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com

Luke Amuchastegui, left, watches his teammates practice on Tuesday at Phoenix High. Amuchastegui, a favorite to win the Skyline Conference district title, will miss the remainder of the season after breaking an ankle during a tournament last Saturday in Merlin. - Jamie Lusch