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The second half of the winter season didn’t get off to the start the Los Alamos Hilltopper wrestling team was hoping.
After a disappointing finish Saturday, the Hilltoppers were hoping to bounce back at home Wednesday, and it did. The Hilltoppers knocked off a pair of visiting teams at Auxiliary Gymnasium, defeating both Albuquerque Academy and Rio Rancho.
Los Alamos picked up a decisive team victory over Academy, taking a 42-23 decision. In the other contest, which featured much of the Rams’ younger wrestlers, Los Alamos nipped the Rams 42-39.
Wednesday’s competition was originally scheduled to be a quadrangular meet, but Pecos, the fourth invitee, was a no-show. Los Alamos will travel to Pecos for a tournament this weekend.
To compensate for the absence of Pecos, the Hilltoppers split their squad in two — a luxury they can afford this year for the first time in many years — to wrestle mostly exhibition contests.
For the Hilltoppers, they were able to bounce back from their disappointing showing at a duals meet in Moriarty Saturday. The team finished ninth, dropping all four of their duals meets, including two it felt it could’ve won.
Saturday’s meet was the first back from a long winter break and Los Alamos, as a whole, came out with little spark.
But after two days of practice in preparation for its home meet, Los Alamos got some of its mojo back. Los Alamos had a series of intra-squad wrestle-offs to settle its varsity lineup for the week and the competition just among the team seemed to stoke the Hilltoppers’ fire.
“We wrestled a lot better,” said Hilltopper 138-pounder Lane Saunders, one of the few Los Alamos grapplers to come through for the team this weekend. “It was a lot better than Saturday. We came out flat after a three-week break. Most of us came to practice for the break, but those three weeks with no matches, it’s tough to come back from that.”
Saunders, an eighth grader, has already posted an impressive 16-6 record this season and has been a bright spot for the team which, although solid through most of the middle- and upper-weights, has struggled in the lowers.
Saunders picked up the capping victory over Academy, pinning a tough opponent, Michael Trujillo, 45 seconds into the second period, one of three pinfalls secured by the Hilltoppers against the Class 4A Chargers.
The Academy contest was still in doubt heading into the final four bouts — that dual started at weight 145 — but both Dakota Ami at 120 pounds and Aaron Hinojos at 126 pound pulled off come-from-behind wins.
Ami trailed 3-1 early in the third period but dropped Academy’s Travis Green with 1:26 remaining to tie the score. Green was awarded a penalty point when Ami was called for locking his fingers, but with time expiring in the period, Ami pulled Green down from behind and got bout-ending back points to take a 6-4 decision.
Hinojos, a newcomer to the program, trailed 6-3 after two periods against Charger 126-pounder Michaela Jones, but another late nearfall gave Hinojos an 8-7 victory.
Hinojos would also earn a big win over his opponent from Rio Rancho to help the Hilltoppers grab that win.
Los Alamos head coach Bob Geyer, said he sent his team back to the drawing board after the Moriarty event as his charges prepared for their home meet.
“We just went back to the basics,” he said. “We did some running, we had a little more focus here and there. They weren’t any happier with this weekend than I was...but we’re still missing some stuff that should be bread-and-butter.”
Geyer said he’s planning on giving his veterans like Brian Geyer, Cory Geyer and Chandler Lauritzen — all of whom scored pinfalls Wednesday — the Pecos tournament off.
The team will travel mostly with its junior varsity wrestlers this weekend.