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It may take awhile for the Los Alamos Hilltopper wrestling team to sort things out and figure out exactly what it has this year.
Los Alamos had its best season in recent history last year, finishing fifth in team competition at the Class 4A championship tournament and earning its first individual state title since the mid-1990s.
But several of those key figures from last year’s team are gone and Los Alamos will have to make some lineup adjustments.
The good news, however, is there is no shortage of personnel to make the adjustments with.
Los Alamos looks to be two-deep in all but one weight class, heavyweight, as it gets its 2013-14 season going. Los Alamos will open at the very tough Southwest Duals Friday in Rio Rancho.
Despite its starting lineup juggling, it has been a productive preseason in the Hilltoppers’ wrestling room.
“It’s been really good, “ said returning junior John Dermer. “We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning, which we need. We’re getting there. Some of the younger guys are catching up. We’re working at it.”
Counting the gaggle of eighth graders who are projected to join the high school squad following the conclusion of the middle school season, Los Alamos could feature better than 30 wrestlers by the time the District 2-4A tournament rolls around in mid-February.
Participation numbers in wrestling have increased considerably since head coach Bob Geyer took over the program prior to the 2009-10 season. Geyer said that it’s no coincidence the program has been as successful as it has during that time.
Last year, Los Alamos won its second consecutive district title and qualified 14 wrestlers for the state 4A championship meet.
That showing at state culminated in a state title for Brian Geyer at 182 pounds.
Geyer, who has been receiving attention from some nearby collegiate programs, was actually upset at the district tournament but bounced back to earn a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Los Lunas’ Mark Hussey, giving Geyer the program’s first individual state champ since 1996.
Geyer and Hussey went to overtime but Geyer rode Hussey out — barely — in the fourth overtime period to earn the state title, that coming after Hussey had defeated Geyer during the regular season.
He will be back to defend his state title, although he will do so wrestling at 195 pounds this year.
Joseph Coriz, a sophomore, and freshman Steffan Brenner, a transfer from Cibola High School in Albuquerque, will duke it out for Geyer’s vacated 182-pound slot.
Geyer, who played football for the Hilltoppers, was banged up for a good portion of the fall but right now is injury-free.
Los Alamos has two other state top-five finishers returning, senior Chandler Lauritzen and sophomore Lane Saunders.
Both wrestlers will be jumping ahead two weight classes from last year, with Lauritzen starting at 145 pounds, and Saunders at 170 pounds.
Another returner, Aaron Hinojos, will move up considerably from 138 pounds to 152, a move he said he’s completely cool with.
“It’s going to be a little tough, going up two weight classes, but having to move has pushed me to be better,” he said. “It’s closer to my natural weight.”
With the vast majority of wrestlers Los Alamos coaches are eyeing right now being underclassmen, basic technique has been a point of emphasis.
By the end of December, Geyer said he’s hoping his younger competitors will be ready for more advanced lessons.
“They’ve got to get in, they’ve got to get their reps,” Geyer said. “Some of them have never wrestled before, but they’re getting it. We’ve got to put in the work. We’ll get there, but it will take awhile.”
Piedra Vista is the reigning Class 4A team champion, grabbing its second straight state title running away last season, and should again be the team to beat in 4A.
According to the website ziawrestler.com, Los Alamos is the No. 4 team in the state heading into its opener, a ranking Geyer said is probably a little too high given the relative inexperience of a lot of his projected starters heading into Saturday’s season opener.
Individually, Saunders got a No. 4 ranking at 170 for the preseason and Geyer a No. 2 ranking at 182 among all state classifications — both are the highest-ranking 4A wrestlers in their weight classes.
Saunders finished third at the 4A championship tournament.
Bob Geyer (5th year)
Nathan Aguirre, Brian Geyer, Chandler Lauritzen
Mateo Cardiel, John Dermer, Aaron Hinojos, Jonathan Schueler
Daniel Aguirre, Joseph Coriz, Nathan Rogers, Chris Romero, Lane Saunders, Damian Sundby
Stefan Brenner, Zach Carson, Quentin Dimick, Nick Gonzales, Hunter Gustafson, Sam Harvey, Patrick Irish, Mitchell Lee, Auzaya Massara, Dominick Montoya, Trevor Nickless, Alexander McRae Palmer, Tanner Wolstein
Dec. 6: at Southwest Shootout (Rio Rancho), 9 a.m.
Dec. 14: at Capital Jaguar Invite, 9 a.m.
Dec. 21: at Tucumcari Rattler Invite, 9 a.m.
Jan. 11: at Academy Invite, 8 a.m.
Jan. 15: Los Alamos Invite, 3 p.m.
Jan. 17: at Joe Vivan Invite, 7 a.m.
Jan. 25: at Aztec Duals, 8:30 a.m.
Jan. 31: at Cardinal Classic (Las Vegas), 10 a.m.
Feb. 8: Bryan Sanchez Invite, 7 a.m.
Feb. 15: District 2-4A Tournament (Bernalillo), TBA.