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SANTA FE – It was a long day but it was a good day.
After struggling at the 2010 Jaguar Invitational Tournament, the Los Alamos Hilltopper wrestling team had a top-five showing at the 2011 event, picking up seven medals.
The Hilltoppers finished Saturday’s Jaguar Invitational with 110.0 points, good enough for fifth place. The Hilltoppers actually started the final round in third place, but strong finishes by both Deming and Capital, along with an unfortunate turn of events for Los Alamos 220-pounder Diego Madrid, saw the team slip.
“(Seven) medals is pretty good,” Los Alamos head coach Bob Geyer said. “Last year we just did one and this year’s tournament I thought was tougher than last year’s.”
Los Alamos had five wrestlers advance to the championship semifinals Saturday, with three moving on to the championship final and another initially seeming to get there.
In an unfortunate bracket mix-up, Madrid wound up wrestling the wrong competitor. He was paired with Shiprock’s Blake Hubbard in the semifinal, but Hubbard had already been knocked out of the championship bracket.
Madrid pinned Hubbard in the first round of their bout before the mistake was caught. Madrid then had to take on Juan Rodriguez of Deming in a make-up semifinal contest, with Rodriguez prevailing in an overtime period, 3-1.
“It was disappointing at first,” said Madrid, who ultimately ended up finishing fourth in his weight class. “It’s never good to find out that your match was worthless. But more mat time equals a better wrestler. It’s alright with me now.”
For the Hilltoppers, Brian Geyer won the 170-pound weight class. Geyer, a sophomore, had to gut out his final two bouts of the day, against Moriarty’s Daniel Martinez and, particularly, against Jonah Schmelz of Santa Fe, to earn top honors.
Against Martinez, neither wrestler could do much against the other, with the bout remaining scoreless through two periods. In the third, Geyer, working off the bottom to open, got a reversal on Martinez 16 seconds in which ultimately proved to be the difference in the contest.
Schmelz, meanwhile, was banged up coming out of his semifinal bout against Los Lunas’ Isaac Parra, with Schmelz taking a controversial 7-6 decision.
Geyer and Schmelz battled tooth-and-nail through three rounds. With under 30 seconds remaining and the score tied at 10, Geyer somehow managed to scrape his way off the bottom and loosen Schmelz’s grasp just enough to slide out and earn an escape with just :19 left.
Both Geyer and Schmelz were running on fumes through the last minute of the bout.
“I was as gassed as you can be,” said Geyer. “I need to condition a little more. I really don’t know what happened, but I got up, and I was just like ‘yeah!’.”
Also getting to the championship round for Los Alamos was eighth-grader Lane Saunders. Saunders had an impressive run through the 138-pound bracket, picking up pinfalls over John Benally of Bernalillo and Nikos Alva of Santa Fe, then holding on for a 6-3 decision against Arvis Alarcon of Roswell in the semifinal.
In the final, Capital’s Isaiah Anya proved to be too tough for Saunders, however, as Anya picked up a technical fall in the third period.
Other medal winners Saturday for Los Alamos included Ben Mitsunaga at 145 pounds, Cory Geyer at 152 and Jonathan Schueler at 285.
Coach Geyer said he may have been most impressed with Arnoldo Ortiz at 182 pounds, however. Ortiz, wrestling competitively for the first time in his high school career, picked up a fifth-place finish, including upsetting Capital’s Jose Escamilla in the consolation final, 12-9.
Geyer said for the Hilltoppers to get closer to the upper echelon in 4A this season, the team will need a better showing from its lower weight classes, none of which got into the medal round.
But things are going well for Los Alamos during the early part of the season, which included a decisive victory over St. Pius X earlier last week.
Even so, Los Alamos is far from satisfied. The maturation process still has a ways to go for the young and largely inexperienced team.
“I’m feeling we’re doing a lot better than we were when I was in the eighth grade. We’re juniors now and we need to step it up,” Madrid said. “I feel like I’m still wrestling like a sophomore. I need to feel like I’m wrestling as a junior.”