ESPAÑOLA — A year ago, the Los Alamos wrestling team finally put up a district championship banner to go with the last one the Hilltoppers earned in 1995.
There wasn’t a 17-year wait for the next crown.
Thanks to five champions out of seven who advanced to the finals, the Hilltoppers repeated as district champions by a 170.50-143 count over runner-up Capital in the District 2AAAA Championships in Española Valley’s Edward Medina Gymnasium on Saturday.
It was supposed to be a hotly contested battle between the Jaguars and the Hilltoppers, and both sides battled through the morning and afternoon as if every match were a life-and-death struggle. Yet, when Diego Madrid rallied past Española’s Jordan Trujillo for an 8-7 win in the 220-pound championship to give Los Alamos its final medalist, the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Sometimes, though, doubt is a good thing.
“We knew Capital had a good team, and they’ve been coming on at the end of the season,” Los Alamos head coach Bob Geyer said. “We wrestled them early on [in a dual] and beat them by three points, so we knew that it was going to be close.”
It was Arnoldo Ortiz’s 16-0 technical pin over Capital’s Ryan Sirico at 170 that was the tipping point. Until then, Capital steadily chipped away at the Hilltoppers’ margin thanks to three pins in the finals (Jose Tapia at 106, Gilbert Mancha at 126 and Ernesto Salvidrez at 145) and an 11-5 decision by Isaiah Anaya over Santa Fe High’s Alex George at 138.
It was a mixed day for the George family, as younger brother Adrian pinned Española’s Lorenzo Montoya in 31 seconds at 113.
The head-to-head matchup was crucial toward the Jaguars’ closing rush, but Ortiz had a pair of wins over Sirico during the season. The senior started off with a takedown and a reverse in the opening period, then added an escape and another takedown for a 7-0 lead heading into the third.
Sirico then made a tactical blunder when he was called for locking hands, which gave Ortiz an 8-0 margin.
Ortiz blocked out his past successes against Sirico, knowing that one slip-up in a high-stakes environment would undo his previous wins.
“It just made me more nervous,” Ortiz said. “The fact that going in I know I can beat him isn’t the right attitude. I’ve just got to go in there and tried my hardest. So, I just got even more nervous.”
Of course Ortiz had a hard act to follow after teammate Cory Geyer won his third district title, this one at 160 over Florian Castillo of Bernalillo. It took Geyer just 42 seconds into the second period to pin Castillo and likely secure the top seed for next week’s Class AAAA championships in the Santa Ana Star Center.
If Geyer acts like he doesn’t care about the district title or the top seed, it’s because of a change in attitude since he signed a letter of intent to compete for the Coast Guard Academy.
“One of the assistants told him, ‘Just go wrestle, have fun,’ ” said coach Geyer, who is Cory’s dad. “‘Don’t worry about wins or losses. Your season isn’t over after this.’”
It won’t be over for Capital’s eighth-grade sensation Jose Tapia. He breezed through the 106 bracket in style, pinning the Sundevils’ Dominic Medina in 28 seconds to earn his first 2AAAA medal. He improved to 17-2 overall, but has not lost on the mat. A headbutt disqualification during the Cardinal Classic two weeks ago in Las Vegas, N.M., caused him to miss the last two matches of that tournament and a meet last week.
Tapia, though, put that incident behind him.
“I just kept wrestling,” Tapia said. “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t think about it that much.”
He is one of a quartet of Jaguars would should get a high seed for next week, and that has nine-year head coach Marcos Gallegos thinking big things for his program.
“We know we got one of the tougher lightweight lineups in the state right now,” Gallegos said. “The thing with us is that we’re still a young team. We only have one senior and a few juniors. We’re really a freshmen and sophomore team. We’re getting better, so the tide is turning for us.”