“Everybody wants to be a part of a winning program,” the Los Alamos head wrestling coach said.
And the best way to do that is simply … win.
On Saturday night, in the State Wrestling Championships in Santa Ana Star Center, winning revealed everything about the state of programs in Northern New Mexico.
St. Michael’s showed once again it is the top dog in Class A-AAA, although it took a pin by Andres Blea in the heavyweight division for the Horsemen to claim a 204-198 team win over Silver for their second straight title. The individual win made Blea himself a two-time champion, as he was one of five state title-winners for the Horsemen, four of whom were repeat winners.
That group led St. Michael’s to its first repeat since taking five straight from 1972-76, but it was an indication of how far the program has come since 2004, when it appeared the program might disband because of low numbers. The Horsemen rose from those ashes to win three titles in the last four years.
“Winning breeds success,” said Joaquin Garcia, St. Michael’s head coach. “People see that we’re successful. We’re going to lose four seniors who were very successful, but our younger group is going to be just as tough. We’re going to be all right for years to come.”
While Garcia says goodbye to four seniors, including Blea and two-time champion Jose Ocampo (who won at 138), he has a strong group coming back for a potential three-peat.
Chief among the returnees will be Korey Windham, who won his fourth straight blue medal despite a cold when he pinned Taos’ Luis Galindo with :10 left in the second period at 160. Now the junior can focus on a five-peat, which has been done by three wrestlers.
“It would be a nice achievement,” Windham said. “It’s just a matter of keeping my work up. It would be very important to me.”
Then there’s Miguel Olivas, who won the 126-pound division with a key 5-1 win over Silver’s Regan Morales. It was a part of a four-for-five start in championship wins for St. Michael’s, and gave it a 198-186 lead before the Colts’ Bencomo brothers, Nevada and Dakota, got pins to tie it.
The Hilltoppers, who once struggled with nine wrestlers on its roster in Geyer’s first year in 2008-09, brought home a state champion in Brian Geyer at 189 pounds in the AAAA bracket. That allowed Los Alamos to jump into fifth place at 137.5 points, 3.5 ahead of District 2AAAA foe Capital.
Brian’s win personified the very struggle the Hilltoppers have gone through. He trailed Los Lunas’ Mark Hussey 1-0 midway through the third period when he scored on a two-point reverse for 2-1. But Hussey responded quickly with a takedown and a 3-2 lead with :30 left in regulation.
Then came fate, in the form of the referee penalizing Hussey for locking hands to tie it at 3. After two scoreless overtimes, a ride-out session began with Brian escaping, but Hussey scoring on a reverse for a 5-4 lead. Again, the ref called Hussey for locked hands and the match was tied and went into a fourth extra period.
“He’s a veteran wrestler,” Geyer said. “I don’t know what was going through his mind when he locked his hands.”
Despair went through it in the final period, as Hussey had to get an escape from the bottom to win the championship. He almost did, but Brian held on to his leg as the two dragged themselves out of bounds with :07 left to preserve the tie and the sudden victory for the Los Alamos junior.
It came at the expense of the Jaguars, who had perhaps their most productive state tournament in their history with two state champions in eighth-grader Jose Tapia (at 106) and junior Isaiah Anaya (138) and a runner-up in Ernesto Salvidrez (145). Capital head coach Markus Gallegos, while disappointed, has seen great progress for a program that had as few as six wrestlers when he started in 2004.
“Top six ain’t bad,” Gallegos said. “Last year, we finished 13th. I can remember a few years back when we were finished on the first day. It is a major step. We got five guys who place, and we’ve never done that since I’ve been here.”
Anaya’s win was an All-Santa Fe battle with Santa Fe High’s Alex George.
It had an old-school theme, as Anaya wore the silver singlets Capital wore when the program first began, while George wore the old white uniforms with “Demons” written down the back.
It came down to the final 13 seconds as Anaya got a reverse on George to break a 2-all knot. It was the third win of the season for Anaya over George, whom the Jaguars junior considers a close friend. George was Anaya’s first opponent when he got an exhibition match as an eighth-grader.
“I like facing Alex,” Anaya said. “He’s a senior. We started off together, and I wanted to end it together.”
It was a mixed day for the George family as brother Adrian George, a sophomore, won the 113-pound title with a pin at 1:02 of the third period over Deming’s Mikey Hernandez in a rematch of last year’s 106 championship. The difference was in the result.