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RIO RANCHO – Lane Saunders isn’t exactly an overnight sensation. It took some time.
“Eleven years of hard work,” said the Hilltoppers’ 170-pound sophomore. “Eleven years.”
Saunders came back from a 4-0 deficit late in the second period to upend Aaron Rino of Piedra Vista to claim the Class 4A individual state title.
With about 40 seconds left in the second period, Rino flipped Saunders onto his back from the bottom. Saunders was able to scramble out quickly to avoid further damage, but after a relatively quiet first period and a half, Rino’s edge seemed like it would be tough to come back from.
But Saunders cut Rino’s lead down to just one point before the end of the period, then scored a reversal to start the third period on a perfectly executed switch move and kept Rino’s face planted on the mat for the remainder of regulation.
Asked when he finally felt like he had the championship bout won, Saunders said, “I never felt like I had him.”
Meanwhile, Los Alamos senior Brian Geyer grabbed his second consecutive state title, this year at 195 pounds. Geyer put together some of the best work of his career at the 4A tournament, earning four straight solid decisions to win it.
“I was just taking what I was given. Defense is just as important as offense,” said Geyer, who throughout the tournament wasn’t looking to score any knockouts but rather methodically dominating his opponents.
In the championship round, Geyer made his 7-1 decision over second-seeded Cesar Haro of Farmington look routine.
Geyer and Saunders became the first Hilltopper duo to win state titles in the same year since the mid 1990s.
In the semifinals, Saunders knocked off Andres Villa of Goddard 4-0 to advance to the title round.
Villa was the aggressor early in that bout, but Saunders sprawled his way out of trouble and the two ended up scoreless after one period.
Villa, on top to start the second period, made the mistake of getting his torso too high on Saunders’ back and Saunders took advantage, scoring a reversal about 40 seconds into the period, which ended up being the deciding move.
In Geyer’s semifinal against St. Pius’ Pete Mora, the two threw each other around for most of the first two periods, but the constant shooting-and-blocking caught up with Mora late in the second period.
With Mora running out of gas, Geyer flipped him right on his back to take a 4-0 lead heading into the third period. Geyer would prevail 7-2 to get to the championship round.
The team competition was dominated from start to finish by Piedra Vista. Although Piedra Vista was believed not to be the dominant force it had been in previous seasons, it still cruised to its fourth consecutive 4A team title, topping the 300-point mark.
Los Alamos finished in eighth place in team competition, better than it was expecting coming into the tournament. Capital, which Los Alamos defeated to take the previous weekend’s District 2-4A tournament, finished fourth overall.
The Hilltoppers didn’t get off to an auspicious start Friday, dropping all three of their preliminary round bouts, but looked better in the second round, going 6-4, including three impressive victories by Geyer, Dermer and heavyweight Jonathan Schueler.
Saunders, who came in as the top seed in the 170-pound bracket, had a tougher-than-expected second round contest against Farmington’s Champ Mendoza.
Saunders went up 4-0 early in the second period, but Mendoza slipped his grasp late in the period and then did so again with about a minute remaining in the third period, chopping Saunders’ lead in half.
But a couple of late single-leg shots by Mendoza came up short and Saunders held on to win 6-2 to advance.
In his quarterfinal round contest Friday, Saunders scored a big 10-0 shutout over a familiar foe, Miguel Loya of Capital.
In a rematch of the 2-4A championship six days earlier, Saunders held a 4-0 lead after one period. Loya tried to come up from the bottom in the second period to no avail, then Saunders dominated him in the final two minutes.
He and Geyer were the only two Hilltoppers to get through the quarterfinals unscathed. Geyer picked up a tech-fall in the quarters to advance, thoroughly dominating Grants’ Don Ramirez.
Schueler, meanwhile, came back in the back side Saturday to finish sixth, giving the Hilltoppers three medals in 4A.
Los Alamos’ other four competitors didn’t survive the second round in the championship bracket. Mendez, Aguirre and Schueler were all pinned in that round, while Dermer was nipped 1-0 by Santa Teresa’s Esteban Ozante, one of the few 1-0 decisions of day one.
Ozante kept charge in the second period with Dermer starting off the bottom, although Dermer was only in trouble for a brief few seconds. In the third period, Ozante got to his feet twice then wrenched himself out of Dermer’s grasp for the winning point.
Schueler slipped into the consolation round after the quarterfinal round.
Saturday, he earned a pin over Miyamura’s Jasper Denetclaw in the third period to put himself in a position to vie for a medal.