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The lament of the Los Alamos Hilltopper wrestling program in recent years has been a lack of bodies to fill roster spots.
The 2011-12 roster, however, has no such problem.
Los Alamos will go into the season with a full slate of wrestlers, something it hasn’t had in many years, and before the outcome of a single bout has been determined, expectations have risen. Los Alamos finished No. 10 in the preseason Class 4A coaches poll, something that surprised Hilltopper head coach Bob Geyer, and many already feel the team should push reigning District 2-4A champion Santa Fe for the crown in February.
But, considering many of those wrestlers have little or no prep wrestling experience, is that getting a little ahead of the game at this point?
“All the senior wrestlers can help each other and they can help the new kids,” Los Alamos veteran wrestler Ben Mitsunaga said. “We’re helping the new kids. We’ll get stronger and stronger. We’ll have good wrestlers.”
Los Alamos opened its season this morning at the Southwest Duals, which should show Geyer and the rest of the program exactly how much work will need to be done. The Southwest Duals, a two-day event hosted by Rio Rancho, includes teams from all over the southwest, including some of the top programs in the state.
In the Hilltoppers’ pool alone are teams from Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Arizona, along with the premier New Mexico program, Rio Rancho.
“This is probably the toughest competition in the state,” Geyer said. “We’re probably going to take our beatings a little bit. A few will do good, others won’t do as well. It’ll be a learning experience.”
The event is divided into three pools of seven schools each. Each school will take on the others in their pool and each school will have two more rounds with the schools that finished in their same respective position in the other two pools.
Los Alamos will be somewhat judicious in how it uses its roster for the Southwest Duals. Geyer said the team’s biggest goal heading in is to get experience. Wins will be icing on the cake but probably hard to come by in this event.
Despite being short on experience, the Hilltoppers are still thrilled they should have very close to 14 weight classes filled at every tournament.
“With all the wrestlers we have, we won’t be giving up as many forfeits,” said returning grappler Peter Brewer, who will compete at 195 pounds this year. “We’ll have a lot of fresh guys. They aren’t use to the game, but they’re being thrown in here pretty fast.”
The numbers game caught up to the Hilltoppers at last year’s District 2-4A tournament. Los Alamos finished at the bottom of the five-team competition, earning 67 points while fielding a team of only eight.
However, six Hilltoppers qualified for last season’s state meet, but after the opening day of the two-day tournament, just two wrestlers remained, brothers Cory and Brian Geyer.
Cory Geyer would go on to finish fourth at 145 pounds, becoming Los Alamos’ first individual to earn a medal at state since the 2007-08 season. Brian Geyer nearly bounced back from a first-round loss to get to the medal round, but fell one match short.
Both the Geyers are back this season, along with all four other state tournament qualifiers and several other letter-winners off last season’s squad.
Los Alamos was hampered by injuries throughout the 2010-11 season, most notably to seasoned veteran Desmond Fellers, whose shoulder injury he suffered the year before never completely healed.
For the Southwest Duals, Los Alamos will be without one of its key returners, 126-pounder Alyc Montoya, who has been hampered with knee problems during the preseason. Coach Geyer said they will bring Montoya along slowly for the early season.
Most of the team’s returners will be in a new weight class this year — all prep weight classes were modified for this season, though most of them just by a few pounds. Mitsunaga will bump up from 140 to 145, while Cory Geyer goes from 145 to 152.
Cory Geyer played football in the preseason, as did a considerable amount of the wrestling roster. During that time, he spent a good amount of time in the weight room and should have little trouble adjusting to his new weight class, coach Geyer said.
Los Alamos is carrying a pair of eighth graders and six freshman on its varsity roster right now ranging in weight from 106 pounds to heavyweight. Freshman Jonathan Schueler, who weighs in at just over 200 pounds, will be asked to move up to the 285 weight class as the Hilltoppers don’t have a true heavyweight available.
“We’ve got some really tough wrestlers from the middle school,” coach Geyer said. “They’re going to have a tough time (at varsity)…but we’ll be OK long term. The short term we’re probably not going to do as well as we want.”
Los Alamos will be at home three times this season, the first Wednesday when it takes on St. Pius X.
New Mexico is emphasizing duals meets over individual tournaments, as evidenced by its new system which grades wrestlers on a point system. Because duals meets count for fewer points than do individual tournaments, many more duals matches can be scheduled, which could be particularly beneficial for young teams such as the Hilltoppers.
Despite kicking off the season with a difficult test like the Southwest Duals, Los Alamos seems ready to get its season underway.
“Everybody’s really pushing it,” Mitsunaga said. “They want it a lot. They’re pushing it as hard as they can. We know how it feels to get pushed to our limits and we want to stretch those limits farther this year.”