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Toppers take nine to state tourney

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By Mike Cote

They’re not just happy to be going.Heading into the Class AAAA state championship wrestling tournament, the Los Alamos Hilltopper team set some lofty goals for itself.“I’d love to see the majority of the team taking a medal,” Hilltopper head coach Eric Sorenson said. “It would be nice to bring home a bunch of state medals. They have the capability, if they get up there and wrestle.”It’s been a long time since a majority of the Hilltoppers have been able to crack the top six at state, but Sorenson said if his wrestlers can avoid running into a number one or number two seed right off the bat at the double-elimination tournament, there’s no reason that can’t happen.The tournament starts at noon Friday at the Santa Ana Star Center. Finals are scheduled for Saturday.There are 16 wrestlers in each weight class this season. Los Alamos will be competing in nine weight classes this weekend.Among the Hilltoppers who have a good shot at advancing to the medal round is Blaine Lattin at 189 pounds.Lattin sports a gaudy record of 42-6 this season, but that record is only good enough for the fifth-best winning percentage in his weight class. Whether he got one of the top six seeds in his bracket wasn’t known at press time.In the 189-pound weight class is one of the only undefeated wrestlers in Class AAAA, Belen’s Jaime Yalch. Joe Valdez of Del Norte (33-2) and Jesus Moreno of Piedra Vista (39-3) aren’t exactly slouches, either.“It’s pretty tough,” Lattin, one of the team’s captains, said during a final preparation workout Wednesday. “(Yalch) is 45-0. That’s an amazing record, especially with Belen’s schedule.”Lattin has the top winning percentage relative to his weight class among Los Alamos’ entrants (see page 9 for more information). Paul Martinez, Zak Wilde and Marshall Naranjo were all in the sixth slot in their weight classes when the New Mexico Activities Association released the field earlier this week.Even with the state AAAA meet now just a few hours away, the Hilltoppers weren’t taking it easy this week in practice.“It’s still pretty intense,” Lattin said. “We’ve got to keep our conditioning up. When we get into state we don’t want to be lazy. We’re not killing ourselves, but we want to stay competitive and in shape for our matches.”Lattin, along with Naranjo and Wilde took District 2AAAA individual titles in their weight classes last weekend. Everyone else on the squad finished second or tied for second individually, while the team placed third behind Española Valley and Bernalillo.Yalch’s Belen squad could well be the team to beat this for the state crown.As a team, the Hilltoppers finished 12th at state in 2007. To have any kind of a shot at a team title, Los Alamos would need to put virtually every one of its nine competitors into the finals, and even that might still not be enough.Of the four Los Alamos grapplers that took medals last year, only Kory Nelson is returning. Nelson took fourth at 103 pounds as a sophomore but is wrestling at 125 this season.Sorenson said Nelson would love to get another crack at 2AAAA champion Dino Gipson, who beat Nelson for the district crown.Wilde (28-12) also has a score to settle, his with Moriarty’s Alex Griego (30-12). Wilde and Griego split their season series at one bout apiece.“They’re sitting very close record-wise,” Soreson said of Wilde and Griego. “That will be another where we could spoil somebody’s day.”