Wrestling: LA takes seventh at home tourney

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By Mike Cote

What the Los Alamos Hilltopper wrestling team can control appears under control as the regular season winds down.

The question will be how much outside factors may play a part in its success as it heads into the postseason.

At Saturday’s home tournament, held at Griffith Gymnasium, Los Alamos was generally pleased with it showing on the mat. However, Los Alamos had to hold out some top wrestlers due to illness or injury.

The Hilltoppers had just six wrestlers in Saturday’s field as they finished seventh among the 11 competing teams. The six Los Alamos wrestlers put up a total of 98 points Saturday.

The Class AAAAA powerhouse, Rio Rancho, which sent down its junior varsity, won the team competition with 255 points, earning a comfortable victory over second place Valencia.

Individually, a pair of Hilltoppers won their weight classes in the round-robin format tournament.

Senior Zak Wilde earned an impressive victory in the 160-pound championship, shutting out Belen’s Anthony Hardesty 9-0. Meanwhile, Blaine Lattin rolled to a win in the 189-pound weight class.

“Everyone out there wrestled on their A-games,” Lattin said of the Hilltoppers. “Jodi (Cull-Host) had some tough matches but she wrestled her heart out. Cory (Geyer) definitely stepped it up, considering it was his second varsity match ever. I’m really proud of him.”

Lattin wasn’t too bad Saturday, either.

Lattin won his next-to-last bout, his most challenging of the day over Shiprock’s Brian Shirley, by overcoming a quick 4-0 deficit. Shirley managed to go the distance in the bout, something none of Lattin’s other opponents did Saturday, but still lost 20-7.

“The seniors look like they’re right where they should be,” Los Alamos head coach Eric Sorensen said. “They wrestled tough. They got medals. It’s nice to see those two clicking.”

Los Alamos was missing three key weights Saturday, however, 112 pounds, 125 pounds and 215 pounds, the slots usually filled by Paul Martinez, Kory Nelson and Nate Robbins.

Nelson’s absence, due to illness, might have robbed the spectators a great finals bout against Española Valley’s Dino Gipson. Instead of a possible preview of this weekend’s 125-pound district championship final, however, Gipson scored a late takedown against his opponent from Rio Rancho to win a tight decision and take Saturday’s 125-pound title.

Individually for the Hilltoppers, Cull-Host finished eighth in 103 pounds and Gary Thorne took fifth at 171 pounds, among those who advanced to a final round bout.

Cull-Host faced Capital’s Crystal Ortiz in that weight’s final round.

In their previous meeting, at Los Alamos’ home triangular Jan. 14, Cull-Host pinned Ortiz in the third period after Ortiz had dominated the first two periods.

But Cull-Host couldn’t repeat the same comeback effort Saturday, with Ortiz scoring the pin with :29 remaining.

Thorne, meanwhile, wasted little time in his fifth-place contest against Clayton Pankey, an unattached wrestler. Thorne had Pankey on his back in just over a minute of the first period and scored the pin at the 1:40 mark.

Competing in front of the Hilltopper fans was a boost Saturday, Thorne said.

“I like it at home,” Thorne said. “We get to sleep in our own bed. We don’t have to stay at a hotel … in front of the home crowd, you want to do this town good.”

Saturday’s tournament was just the second time Los Alamos had made a home appearance this season. Sorenson said he was impressed with the turnout, as well as the amount of volunteers offering to help out with Saturday’s event.

In the 160-pound final, Wilde had a tough time turning the slippery Hardesty, but didn’t have much trouble getting him on the mat, scoring a takedown in each period to win the title bout 9-0.

“He definitely went out with a bang in the home tournament,” Lattin said.

Should Los Alamos be able to get healthy in time for the 2AAAA championship, which is slated for Saturday at Bernalillo, it will have a lot of positives going in, especially coming off the showing in its regular season finale.

“I thought it was a decent tournament,” Sorenson said. “I thought it went pretty well. Everyone got at least three matches in, most of them got four or five, and I think the kids did pretty well, too.”