PV dominates state wrestling tournament, earns five state titles
By Nicole Baker
Special to the Times
RIO RANCHO, N.M., February 28, 2013
(Special to the Times - Curtis Ray Benally)
C oming into the season, no one could have predicted just how dominant the Piedra Vista Panthers would prove to be as they set about winning an impressive third-straight state championship Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
"The first year (winning state) was special, the second (title) was stressful and No. 3 was a lot of fun!" said PV head coach Levi Stout. "This year's group set the bar very high and I will always remember the performance they put on at state."
Although the Panthers were ranked No. 1 most of the season, their state wrestling performance exceeded expectations. Scoring almost 140 points more than the state runner-up, Los Lunas, the Panthers tallied 314.5 points en route to state title.
Los Lunas took second with 176.5, while Belen placed third overall with 179.
In a season of firsts, the Panthers placed 11 wrestlers in the championship finals, with five advancing to wrestle for the state title.
"We don't just have a wrestling team we have a wrestling family at PV," said Stout. "The seniors really led this team and took the reins at state. The seniors wrestled like it was their last opportunity to wrestle and in a couple cases it very well may be."
In an almost unheard of performance, all five Panthers walked away from the championship mat with an individual state title.
The Panthers also get to boast about having a two-time state champion and the school's first ever three-time state champion.
Panther transfer Jacob Palmgren (120 pounds) moved to Piedra Vista from Del Norte this year after winning the state title last year in Colorado.
Palmgren was also the lone Panther to remain undefeated this season after winning a challenging tournament against competitors from around the country in Kansas.
"There aren't many guys who can say they're a state champion in two different states. It feels really great. Now I have to work for a national championship," the junior said of his plans and his new goal. "I am going to Virginia Beach and a couple other national tournaments this summer, and try and get nationally ranked."
He got things rolling for PV in the championship round, pinning his way to the title. Palmgren also gave up just one point, a penalty point, during his 16-1 technical pin in the semifinals.
"Yesterday going through the tournament I had confidence, but I didn't want to get too confident," he said. "Last year I wasn't even ranked and I took first. This year I was ranked first. Anyone can be beat at any time, so I had to be prepared for every single match."
Sophomore Anthony Jukes (132 pounds) won one of the toughest weight classes, after scoring a 6-0 decision over Aztec's Robert Escojeda. Going into the state tournament, Jukes and Escojeda had both won decisions against each other.
"I'm so excited right now," said Jukes, who won state as an eighth grader, a freshman, and now as a sophomore. "All the hard work in the room, my coaches and my drilling partners is what got it for me, the same thing that got me my first one. I wanted it really bad this year…now it's back in the room to get some more training in for No. 4 and hopefully some All-American status."
It was also the realizing of a dream for two of the Panther seniors – Wyatt Hardy (160) and Christian Acosta (220).
Acosta wrapped up the night for the Panthers with a pin in 4:41 over district rival Brad Hardin of Aztec.
"It was a lot of pressure on me, but it pushed me even harder," Acosta said, of watching four teammates succeed in capturing state titles. "Pushing myself made me what I am now – a state champion.
"I wanted this state title more than I've ever wanted anything. This has been my dream since eighth grade. Now that is come true, it's unreal…it was my last year and I wanted to go out with one state title."
Hardy edged Corey Geyer of Los Lunas in a 4-3 decision in the championship round for his state title.
"This is a dream come true," said Hardy. "This means everything to me.
"I've been working for this since I was an eighth grader," he added, laughing about how raw he was as a freshman. "I could never have imagined this. It is the most amazing feeling. My practice partner (Ryan Rino) really pushes me. He gets me prepared for everything."
Hardy also pushed Rino, who won the 152-pound crown just prior to Hardy. Rino, a junior, scored three reversals to earn a 6-4 decision over Los Lunas' Eddie Canizo.
"That final reversal was big in a situation like this," Rino said, adding that you have to give it everything. "You have to burn it to earn it. I came here to take first, and I wasn't going to waste my time. All that hard work really does pay off. You can be a champ…but you have to push yourself. This is a great honor."
It all started with the consolation, though.
The Panthers pretty much had a lock on the title after impressive consolation bracket wrestling – in which six PV wrestlers made it into the consolation finals to wrestle for third place, most of them matching up against district rivals. The Panthers showed their heart after losing close ones in the semis and quarters.
Only one of those Panther wrestlers missed taking third, and that was due to having to injury default. PV senior John Ellsaesser, who dislocated his elbow earlier in the season, had to bow out of his third-place match after having it reinjured during his previous matches.
Taking third for the Panthers were sophomore Sam Sandoval at 106 pounds, who won three consolation matches to take third after losing a close 4-3 decision to the eventual state champion, and Capital eighth grader Jose Tapia.
Sophomore Phillip Archuletta (113) took third with a revenge win over district rival David White of Kirtland. White had beat Archuletta for the district title.
Senior Ryan Ruybalid (126) bounced back from a heartbreaking semifinals loss, to take third against Farmington's Brandon Padilla.
Junior Dillon Strunk (145) beat Kirtland's Sam Chee, while teammates Jake Ahlgrim (195) defeated Santa Fe's Anthony Maestas and heavyweight Kason Wilkinson topped Valencia's Nathan Jolley for third.
Aztec senior Adam Lucero knew all about winning a state title – at least in football. The senior quarterback for the titles, helped lead the Tigers to their first state football championship as a junior in 2011.
Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, the talented senior added a state wrestling title to his list of accomplishments and accolades.
"This is the hardest I've worked for anything in my life," Lucero said, noting that he's been wrestling since he was four. "It feels like 13 years all combined into one match."
Lucero beat district opponent Essiel Carrasco of Farmington in a 7-2 decision for the 170-pound crown.
"I thought it was cool to wrestle a district opponent for the state title," he added. "It made me want to win that much more."
Lucero added that although winning the state title hadn't quite sunk in yet, he had been thinking about it every night before bed.
Teammates Robert Escojeda (132) and Brad Hardin (220) placed second helping the Tigers to a seventh place overall finish in the team standings with 123 points.
Farmington was 12th with 83 led by Carrasco's second-place finish, while teammates Francisco Alvarez (132) and Brandon Padilla (126) placed fourth and Cobey Hamblin (113) placed fifth.
Kirtland was 14th with 67 points, with three state placers in David White at 113 pounds placing fourth, Kieshaun Aspaas placing sixth at 120 pounds and Sam Chee placing fourth at 145 pounds.
After coming in as the runner-up last year as junior, Bloomfield senior Orrin Kennedy knew Saturday's championship match would be his final chance to bring home a coveted state title.
"I've wanted this state title since sophomore year," said Kennedy, noting that dropping down from heavyweight to his truer weight of 220 pounds had a definite impact. "It took a lot of hard work, but it feels good to get it. I wanted to bring at least one state title home.
Kennedy took home the prize by pinning Tucumcari's Rudy Vallejo in the third period.
With only two Bobcats in the finals, Kennedy knew he was the last shot at an individual state title for the Bobcats after watching his teammate Troy Rightmire (132 pounds) lose one of the most thrilling matches of the night – a quadruple overtime showdown against Silver's Shawn Debuskis.
After both wrestlers scored escapes during the regulation periods, for a 1-1 tie that sent the match into overtime, neither was able to score in any of the first three overtime periods.
With just seconds remaining, Rightmire fought with everything he had left but Debuskis broke loose to take the state title over Rightmire.
"Nothing compares to it," Rightmire said of competing in a quadruple overtime thriller, adding that it's a situation that is hard to train for. "That eight-and-a-half minutes is the hardest things I've ever done.
"I worked all season just for that match there. I gave it my all. I didn't give up," he added. "There is always next year. Training for next year starts tomorrow."
The Bobcats, who placed sixth overall with 108.5 points, also had four wrestlers in the consolation finals for third place.
JD Robinson took third at 145 pounds, Paul Jaramillo took third at 195 pounds, Jerome Abeyta placed fourth at 170 pounds and Alex Portillos placed fourth at 152 pounds.
Shiprock finished with 32 points, behind the third-place finish of Alex Benally. Benally beat Foothill's Ezra Noriega in a 13-4 major decision to take third.
"I wish I could have done better," Benally said. "This is my senior year. I did what I could. I'm the only one from my school to make it onto the podium."