Max Francisco is the younger sibling of reigning 112-pound Division I state champion Elyle Francisco.
But Max, a freshman wrestling in the 103-pound weight division at Bettye Davis East, isn’t just little brother. His coaches believe he has the talent to rival, and perhaps even exceed his brother’s success on the mat.
Due to his size, coaches say he often trains with wrestlers that weigh anywhere between 15 to nearly 30 pounds more than him.
“He’d probably beat most of the 112s in this league honestly,” East coach Mario Santaella said.
While his older brother was busy competing at the U17 World Championships this past summer, Max Francisco was competing stateside and earned All American honors in the U15 division down in the Lower 48s.
Every time he steps on the mat his mindset is to be aggressive and while some coaches often want their superior wrestlers to work on their technique against lesser skilled opponents, Francisco said he tries to “go for the pin every time.’ "
“I don’t think he has wrestled longer than 30 seconds,” Santaella said.
Santaella said Francisco didn’t fall in love with the sport until recently and believes that he has the potential to be even better than his brother.
While his brother who mainly wrestles Greco, Max is developing an even more diverse skill set.
He wrestles Freestyle, Greco, and Folk because he wants to be a well-rounded wrestler that forges his own path, not follow in his elder sibling’s footsteps.
“I joked with his parents that I’ve always thought that Max was better than Elyle, he just didn’t come to practice,” Santaella said.
Cougars on the prowl for glory
While the East up-and-comer looks to establish a legacy for himself, Service High seniors Ryunosuke Tsukada and Zachary Priebe hope to cement theirs by winning something that has eluded them thus far, a state title in their respective weight classes.
“It’s my last year so I’m trying to go as hard as I can,” Tsukada said. “My goal is to always try to get first.”
He finished fourth in last year’s state tournament in the 145-pound division and one of his other main goals is to be a good role model to the other student-athletes in the program.
“I really just want to leave everything on the mat so I don’t regret anything,” Tsukada said.
He wrestles year round at ABJJ (Anchorage Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) and went to Arizona for a nationals tournament this past summer where he took second in freestyle and finished last on folkstyle after losing to the eventual first- and second-place finishers.
“I’m feeling pretty good like I’m in the top three at least,” Tsukada said about where he stacks up in relation to the rest of the wrestlers at his weight class around the state.
Priebe placed third at state last year at 171 pounds and believes improving his mindset when he steps on the mat is the key to achieving it.
“That is probably my most brutal thing that takes me down,” Priebe said. “My mind says I’m tired but I shouldn’t be thinking that way.”
He wants to adopt an attitude of relentlessness where he fights through fatigue instead of letting it get the best of him.
“That’s what really beat me at state last year,” Priebe said. “I wasn’t thinking about my very first opponent at all because I pinned him at regions right away and the other times (we met) and that’s how I lost that match.”
Knights hoping to run it back again
Colony High has claimed each of the last three Division I team state titles. The Knights aren’t at full strength yet because they had 12 wrestlers on the school’s football team that just won the first state title in program history.
“They’ll have some time off and then we’ll get them back but we have a good team that is fighting hard,” head coach Todd Hopkins said.
The Knights are bringing back three of their seven placers from last year’s title team with junior Matthew Mitchell and senior Elijah Larson being the only returning state champions. Hopkins says both of them are looking good to start the season.
Mitchell won state for the first time as a sophomore at the 125-pound class and welcomes the unavoidable target that will be on his back all season
“I like the competition so I hope people will be gunning for me,” Mitchell said.
Any past rivals looking for revenge will need to pack on a couple more pounds to exact it because Mitchell decided to move up to the 130-pound weight class.
“I didn’t feel like cutting weight to be honest,” Mitchell said. “I want to be at peak performance, not always drained from cutting weight.”
He views his top competition as East’s Kenton Cooke, who he beat in last year’s state finals and is also making the move up to 130-pound weight class.
“I think we’ll have a rematch and a very good battle this season again and I’m really looking forward to wrestling him all year,” Mitchell said.
While they aren’t as loaded with proven talent as they were last year, Mitchell believes this team has what it takes to run it back.
“I think the team is going to do good, we just have to fix the rotation and I think we have another state in the bag,” Mitchell said.