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Atencio wins state championship

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Five other LAHS wrestlers earn medals as Hilltoppers finish seventh

By Phil Scherer

For the first time since 2014, the Los Alamos High School wrestling team has a state champion.

Devin Atencio, a freshman in the 106-pound weight class, claimed the title by defeating all four of his opponents last weekend at the NMAA State Wrestling Championships. And he did it in convincing fashion, appearing in control throughout every match.

“It feels amazing,” Atencio said. “I have been working at this for my whole life. It’s just a great feeling.”

Last year, as an eighth-grader, Atencio finished in fourth place at the championships, easily getting through the first two rounds of the competition before falling in the semifinals and the third-place match.

This year, he seemed determined to keep that from happening.

In the first round, he faced Española Valley’s Joey Fernandez, who he defeated for the District 2-5A championship the week prior. Much like the first matchup, Atencio had little trouble defeating Fernandez, pinning him in 1:13.

The quarterfinal round against Kirtland Central’s Devin Montano was equally dominant for Atencio, as he earned the pin just 32 seconds into the second round to advance to the semifinals.

Though the competition became tougher in the later rounds, Atencio’s cat-like quickness and balance was difficult for anyone to match.

In the semifinals, Belen’s Raul Sisneros came out strong, earning a few points by escaping Atencio’s grasp, but was unable to sustain the energy throughout the match. Though Atencio was unable to pin Sisneros, he advanced with an 11-5 win by decision.

The championship match against St. Pius’ Matthew Sanchez was by far the toughest for Atencio. At the beginning of the match, neither wrestler wanted to make the first move, waiting for their opponent to make a mistake.

Eventually, Sanchez lunged to take Atencio to the ground, but Atencio avoided the move and turned it around on Sanchez, earning the first two points of the match.

Though Sanchez earned one takedown, it was short-lived as Atencio began to dominate by not allowing Sanchez to get to his feet.

Through the second and third round, Atencio’s confidence grew, and he built up a 6-2 lead. As the clock ran out in the third round, it was official. He was a state champion.

He collapsed to the ground in excitement, and then jumped into the waiting arms of his coaches.

After the match, Atencio credited his coaches and teammates for always pushing him to be the best he can be, and said his goal is to repeat as champion next year, possibly by moving up to the 113 or 120-pound weight class.

Outside of Atencio, the team finished with five other wrestlers in medal position.

Donovan Atencio finished in fourth place in the 113-pound weight class. Damian Gonzales finished in sixth place in the 120-pound weight class. Israel Gellis finished in fifth place in the 138-pound weight class. Milo Light finished in sixth place in the 285-pound weight class.

In the girls’ tournament, Gloria Ramos finished in third place in the 131-pound weight class, and impressed with her ability to finish off opponents.

Though Ramos would have liked to win the championship, she said this year’s experience gives her more motivation for next year.

“I don’t like losing, but I especially don’t like losing to girls,” Ramos said. “You want to be the best.”

As a team, the Hilltoppers finished in seventh place with 110 points, double what LAHS accomplished last year. Head coach James Hatt said he was proud of what the team accomplished, and was excited to see what they could do in the future.

“They did fantastic,” Hatt said. “They fought hard. We have our individual champion now, and five placers. I couldn’t be happier.”

He added that next year, the team is only losing three wrestlers, Trevor Brown, Reyes Mendez and Arturo Rodriguez, and that the team will be able to reload with new guys.

Hatt said, “And that’s a credit to our middle school program, because they do nothing but load me up.”

One of the most impressive things about the team’s performance over the weekend was that every wrestler LAHS brought won at least one match, whether in the championship bracket or on the consolation side.

“The best wrestlers are here,” Hatt said. “Every wrestler I brought is automatically one of the 16 best in 5A. You win a match, you’re one of the 12 best. We had two go out right before the medals, and they’re one of the eight best in the state. Half our lineup should have medaled. We are good.”