The 2012-13 wrestling season ended with the Los Lunas and Belen High School teams finishing second and third behind Class 4A titans, Farmington Piedra Vista.
Both teams have consistently proven to be among the top five in 4A over the last few seasons. 2013-14 should be no different.
The Tigers captured the second place trophy at the 2013 State Wrestling Tournament without having a single wrestler win a championship match — though LLHS did have three wrestlers make it all the way to the championship round.
The defending District 6-4A champs lost five seniors from last year’s team, including state runners-up Isaac Parra and Eddie Canizo.
“It’s a rebuilding year,” said coach Steve Chavez. “We have some young kids in the lineup but we have a good nucleus.”
But 182-pound sophomore Mark Hussey, a state runner-up at 182 pounds, is one of nine returning members of that core group as this year’s team has only two seniors to go with three juniors and five sophomores.
Chavez said the 2012-13 showed that his teams always have the mettle to outperform expectations, somethigh he expects his Tigers may do again this season.
“Last year everybody looked at other teams and thought they could place higher than us,” Chavez said of the Tigers’ performance at state. “Then we came out and showed we’re one of the better teams in this state.”
Chavez said his team’s chances of finishing second or higher at state and repeating as district champions rely on the squad’s youthful members.
“If we have some leaders step it up, we could be very successful,” he said.
Among those Chavez sees filling that role are sophomore Roman Cervantes (106 pounds), who won 20 matches last season.
Joining Cervantes, who Chavez said could finish in the top three at state, is senior Miguel Alvarado (126 pounds), who was a state runner-up two seasons ago, as well as sophomores Michael Freeman (112 pounds) and Andrew Salazar (120) and junior A.J. Sauceda (132 pounds).
The Tigers began the season Wednesday night with a dual meet at Atrisco Heritage Academy before hosting the Los Lunas Invitational on Saturday. The dual meet format on Saturday will include some of state wrestling’s best teams — district rivals Belen, as well as Class 5A contenders Eldorado and Carlsbad, among others
Chavez said the early season is a time to work out some of the kinks as well as figuring out some of the holes in the team’s line-up.
“To me Los Lunas wrestling has always been about what we do at the end of the year,” Chavez said. “We’re not going to worry about what happens between now and district. We had a lot of kids step up last season and we brought home the red trophy.
“It’ll be interesting to sew how this team responds,” he said. “We’re one team that you don’t want to count out.”
The Eagles lost four outstanding seniors from last year’s squad that finished third in Class 4A, including state champions and All-Americans Wyatt Robinson and Phillip Gonzales.
But coach Lee Chaves said his Belen squad may actually be better collectively this season.
“We’re looking to have a more complete team,” he said. “We’re trying to put the emphasis on having everyone solid, from 102 (pounds) to heavyweight, and not just have a few stars.
“Everyone will have to contribute,” he said emphatically.
With 10 lettermen coming back, including state placers such as juniors Anthony Trujillo (120 pounds) and Matthew Lucero (132 pounds) as well as senior Chris Romero (113) and sophomores Matthew Bergueno (195 pounds) and Gunner Robinson (138 pounds), the Eagles look stacked.
“We’ve got a very good team,” Chaves said “We have a lot of kids who got varsity experience last year. So we’ve got a young team, but it’s a talented team. We have high expectations.”
That talent and expectation will probably not begin to show itself until January as the Eagles get their wrestlers involved with the football team into wrestling shape.
“With the schedule we’ve tried to back load a bit more now,” Chaves said. “We’re trying to make it a positive.
“The fact that the football players are coming in late means they’re having a good season. So we try to build on that success,” he said.
With that in mind, the team will get some of its younger wrestlers some experience until the football players up to speed.
While Belen will start its season with this weekend’s Los Lunas Invitational, Chaves said he’ll begin to get an idea of who will be part of the varsity squad at next weekend’s Las Cruces Invitational.
Chaves said his team should be among the top three in district along with Los Lunas and Gallup Miyamura, which he said is “by far the strongest team I’ve seen” from that school.
At the state level, all three county coaches agree that the road to the title runs through the gym of three-time defending champions Piedra Vista.
“They’re the team to knock off,” Chaves said, adding that Santa Fe Capital and Deming are also teams to watch for. “Capital had more state champions than anyone else last year and Deming is a senior-loaded team. This is their year, if they’re going to win a state title.”
The Eagles’ first home dual meet will be on Jan. 8 against arch-rival Los Lunas.
The Jaguars lost four seniors from last year’s squad, but more importantly had to weather the retirement of coach Tom Torres, who stepped aside after guiding the school’s program for its first seven years.
Stepping in is Lorenzo Carrillo, a Belen native who most recently coached St. Pius X in Albuquerque. Among Carrillo’s bonafides are the fact that he trained the Sartans’ first two individual state champions.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’m very excited about what I’ve seen,” Carrillo said. “We’re going to be solid from 106 (pounds) up to 170. I feel we’re going to make some noise in the valley and in the state. “People will know Valencia has arrived this year,” he said
Carrillo’s “well-seasoned team” will include 11 juniors, though he said he does expect good things from his two seniors, Marco Gonzales (152 pounds) and Manuel Rascon (132 pounds).
Leading the group will be juniors Nate Nash (182 pounds) and heavyweight Nathan Jolley as well as junior Jacob Pino (120 pound) and sophomore Albert Sanchez (145 pounds), who Carrillo calls a “real natural.”
“We have a very solid squad and they’re taking very well to the type of training we have going on,” Carrillo said, referencing the resistance training methods he and his staff have brought in to augment the more traditional training Valencia has employed in the past.
On the mats, the Jaguars will also see some changes as well, he said.
“We’re looking to be a little more tactical, a little more strategic,” Carrillo said. “We’ll be a very in-your-face group that is wrestling aggressively.”
Carrillo said he’s still finding out the strengths and tendencies of his individual wrestlers, as his team has not yet wrestled as a group. The one issue he sees looming more than anything is depth.
“We’re starting to gel as a team,” he said. “But as a young school with a small program, we haven’t had the numbers they have at the other schools in the valley,
Carrillo said his squad started with 33 wrestlers and is at “a solid 24″ as the season begins.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be holding on to who we have,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, so we hope we don’t face a whole lot of injuries.”
Valencia began the season with a dual meet at St. Pius X in Albuquerque Wednesday night before participating in the APS Mini Invitational at Rio Grande High School Saturday.