Former LLHS grappler Griego takes the reins at Volcano Vista

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When Ahren Griego last stepped foot in the Los Lunas High School gymnasium, he was an outgoing senior.

A four-year letterman for the Tigers wrestling team, Griego was captain of the squad, leading by example and placing at state three times in his career and earning state runner up honors in his senior year.

Saturday he came in as the enemy, the first-year head coach for Volcano Vista High School, coaching against his old coach and mentor Steve Chavez in the final match of the team pool portion of the Tom Torres Tiger Duals wrestling meet.

“Honestly this is my first time being back in this gym in six years,” he said just before his team took on reigning Class 5A champions Cleveland High School in the first place match of the dual wrestling meet.

“I told the kids it’s going to mean a lot to me if we win this one,” Griego said. “Making the finals was a big accomplishment in and of itself. And coaching against my old coach was special. It was nice to be able to compete against him and be part of honoring Coach Torres.”

Griego’s Hawks fell short in the finals against the Storm.

But the big accomplishment for the 24-year old coach lays in the fact that he is a head coach and teacher, he said.

Following his senior season, Griego was set to wrestle for Hastings College, an NAIA school in Nebraska. But a serious shoulder injury changed his plans.

“I tore my trapezius (muscle) off my scapula,” he said. “They had to rebuild the muscle and attach it to the bone.

“It was pretty severe,” he said. “It took 20 months of rehab and I had to learn how to use my shoulder again.”

His wrestling career over, Griego, who grew up in Los Chavez, instead earned his degree in special education from the University of New Mexico.

He stayed in wresling circles by volunteering with junior wrestling programs in Los Lunas and Albuquerque before landing an assistant coach position at Volcano Vista two years ago.

When head coach Mikey Lovato stepped down after last season to take the job at Albuquerque West Mesa, Griego was elevated to head coach.

Griego said the hardest part of coaching is “management,” emphasizing that having his wrestlers keep up with their studies is paramount.

“It’s just about keeping them healthy and active,” he said. “They’re good kids.”

On the mat, the Hawks prove to be a fundamentally sound group of wrestlers who move well and wrestle physically.

“We’re big on intensity and big on basics,” he said.

Asked if his team wrestles like he did, Griego chuckles.

“In some ways they do (reflect my personality),” he said. “In some ways I like them to be more aggressive than I was. (So) I don’t want them to be just like me.”

Sharing a district with Cleveland, the two-time defending state champs, and Rio Rancho, a school that’s won 10 titles since 2003, is a challenge. But Griego said a bigger challenge awaits.

“We’ve put three kids into Division I programs,” he said with pride. “That’s the main goal — to get these kids their post-secondary education. Wrestling in New Mexico is important. But getting them scholarships and higher education is the goal.”

Griego, who is the fourth coach in seven years at VVHS, also wants to bring a steadying hand to the program.

“I’m just trying to bring some stability to the program,” he said. “My main goal is to be a stable role model for these kids. A lot of them don’t have that at home.”