Wrestling: LA earns second at district tourney

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By Mike Cote

BERNALILLO — Apparently, the Los Alamos Hilltppper wrestling team was pretty loose going into Saturday’s District 2AAAA championship.

Case in point: wrestler Jodi Cull-Host brought breakfast burritos for coaches Eric Sorenson and Ron Geyer — dirty socks filled with sand and wrapped in aluminum foil.

Whatever had the Hilltoppers feeling good about themselves heading into Saturday’s meet worked.

The Hilltoppers were a surprising second-place finisher at Saturday’s district championship meet, held at Bernalillo High School, nipping the host Spartans for the runner-up title.

Los Alamos finished the tournament with 119.5 points, edging out Bernalillo, which finished with 117 points. It was Los Alamos’ best finish at the district meet since 2005-06.

More importantly for Los Alamos, all nine of team members earned third-place individually or better, meaning all nine will advance to the state Class AAAA championship tournament.

The Hilltoppers picked up three individual district championships, two second-place finishes and four third-place finishes Saturday.

Blaine Lattin won his third straight district individual title at 189 pounds, Zak Wilde won his second straight district title, winning at 160 pounds and Kory Nelson, who moved up to 130 pounds for this tournament after wrestling at 125 for most of the season, took top honors in that weight class.

Nelson made the decision earlier in the week to move up to 130 pounds after struggling to cut weight following an illness the week before. And not only was he wrestling as a third-seed in the weight class, meaning he had a long road to the title, he was also wrestling with a fractured toe Saturday.

“It was tough,” Nelson said after winning the 130-pound tournament to claim the second district title of his career. “Nothing comes easy, but I knew coming in this was my last district tournament. A No. 3 seed, I was definitely the underdog.”

Nelson won the 103-pound weight class as a sophomore two years ago.

During the regular season, Nelson worked hard to keep his weight at 125 pounds but said he felt fine moving up to 130 pounds.

“They’re definitely bigger and faster, but I knew what to expect,” he said. “Those five pounds, you can feel them on the mat.”

And to get to the title, Nelson had to overcome a tough opponent, Española Valley’s Isaiah Martinez.

But Nelson, who aggravated his toe late in the second period when his foot got caught under him, led Martinez through all three periods to take a 6-1 victory and the 2AAAA title.

To win at 160 pounds, Wilde won the only bout he had Saturday, pinning Jacob Rivera of Española Valley just before the buzzer in the second period.

Lattin, meanwhile, went down to the wire with Bernalillo’s Joe Calabaza in the 189-pound final.

After a scoreless first period, Lattin broke Calabaza’s wrist lock early in the second period. That escape would be the only score of the contest as Lattin rode Calabaza out in the final period to take a 1-0 decision.

Taking second place individually for the Hilltoppers were Paul Martinez at 112 pounds and Nate Robbins at 215.

Robbins, who has been battling through a rib injury, had a rough-and-tumble opening bout with Capital’s Marcus Jaramillo, with both wrestlers being tossed the mat more than once despite the contest being decided by a Robbins pin at the 1:36 mark.

But Sorenson, the team’s head coach, thought it best not to risk any further injury for Robbins, who forfeited the 215 title bout to Carl Lente, a seasoned veteran from Bernalillo.

While Los Alamos’ top five wrestlers finished in the top two as expected, Los Alamos’ third-place finishers had to dig themselves out of early holes to earn their bids to state.

Cory Geyer and Cull-Host in particular, had a long road back after falling in their opening contests.

Geyer, an eighth-grader, lost a 9-5 decision to Taos’ Matt Siva right off the bat, although Geyer nearly turned Siva onto his back several times in the final 54 seconds before dropping the contest.

“I was really nervous the first match,” Geyer said. “I was feeling sick to my stomach and I couldn’t get over that. After the loss, I was so mad at (Siva) I wanted to take it out on him.”

Geyer would get another crack at Siva, but he had to earn another chance.

Following the opening loss, Geyer had to come back through Lorenzo Carravo of Capital, which he did, taking a 12-7 victory after Carravo’s takedown midway through the third period cut Geyer’s lead to just 8-7.

The win put Geyer in the third-place contest against Siva, who fell in the semifinals to eventual 119-pound champion Adam Montoya of Española Valley.

The second time around, Geyer started to take control in the second period, reversing Siva onto his back to pick up a 2-point near-fall early with about 22 seconds expired. The third period was all Geyer as he went on to win 11-4 and earn the first trip to state of his career.

“It feels really good,” he said. “It really feels amazing.”

Cull-Host also lost her first round contest, getting pinned in under a minute by Española Valley’s Thomas Salazar.

In the consolation round, she scored a pin in 1:33 to eliminate Taos’ Joshua Valencia.

Following that round, she faced Capital’s Cristal Ortiz.

Ortiz and Cull-Host had split a pair of contests this season, with Ortiz beating Cull-Host a week earlier in Los Alamos. But Cull-Host, who struggled with Ortiz early in both their previous meetings, held a lead throughout the first two periods, then in the third period Cull-Host caught Ortiz’s arm as she tried to slip through Cull-Host’s grasp and Cull-Host pinned her at the 4:28 mark.

At 171 pounds, Gary Thorne also fell in his first contest of the day, getting pinned by Taos’ Dakota Swinehart in the latter part of a wild first period.

Going into the third place bout after the loss, Thorne went up 8-1 after two period against Bernalillo’s Clay Pankey. Pankey made a late comeback attempt, picking up a near-fall with :20 remaining, but Thorne survived to win 8-5.

Desmond Fellers also qualified for the state tournament with his third place finish at 140 pounds.

The second-place finish behind Española Valley, which cruised to its fourth-straight district team title with 208 points, was just the icing on the cake after getting all nine wrestlers into the state tournament for the Hilltoppers.

“That’s awesome,” said Nelson, a senior. “I’m so proud of these guys right now. If you had told me we’d take second with nine wrestlers, even though everyone works really hard, I wouldn’t have believed you.”