Wrestling: LA is short on bodies to start

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By Mike Cote

While the Los Alamos Hilltopper wrestling program has some high hopes for its individual wrestlers, in team competition it’s going to struggle this season.

And at this point, there isn’t much the Hilltoppers can do about it.

The Hilltoppers are heading into the start of the 2008-09 season minus three weight classes. While an eighth-grade wrestler might be brought after the Los Alamos Middle School season concludes this weekend to fill one of the vacant spots, it will still be an uphill battle for the Hilltoppers.

The Hilltoppers started the season Wednesday in a triangular against West Las Vegas and Bernalillo (see story at left) and will compete in the Jaguar Invitational starting Friday.

“This is one of the poorest seasons I’ve seen, numbers-wise,” Hilltopper fourth-year head coach Eric Sorenson said. “We have good talent, but were missing a lot of weights. We’re not going to do well in team competition.”

Los Alamos will have some key competitors back from the 2007-08 squad, which qualified nine wrestlers for the state championship tournament.

All four of the team’s seniors, Blaine Lattin, Paul Martinez, Kory Nelson and Zak Wilde, will be looking to improve from last season’s state performance.

While Sorenson felt all four had a solid chance to end up with medals at the tournament, only Martinez and Lattin finished among the top six in their weight classes.

For Wilde, he fully remembers being bounced from the championship side of the bracket by Moriarty’s Alex Griego at 152 pounds.

Wilde, the District 2AAAA championship at 152 who is moving up to 160 this season — a move he’s not thrilled about as he’s currently tipping the scales at approximately 155 — is hoping to get back to the state tournament, to make good on what he thought was a disappointing finish to his junior year and end his prep career with a bang.

“It’s my last shot,” Wilde said. “It’s all or nothing this year. This is the accumulation of everything you’ve done. It’s your last chance to leave your mark.”

Wilde, along with several other members of the Hilltopper squad, got a late start to the season because the Hilltopper football team’s appearance in the state championship playoffs this fall.

Among those coming off of the football squad is Lattin, who is returning at 189 pounds. Lattin won the district title at that weight and finished sixth in the state tournament last season.

Nelson, meanwhile, will return at 125 pounds for his senior season after finishing second to Española Valley’s Dino Gipson at the district tournament.

The Hilltoppers were third in 2AAAA last season, finishing behind Española Valley and Bernalillo.

This season, the district champion will be determined not by team duals matches, as has been the case since 2004, but will be determined in a singles tournament. Because Los Alamos will struggle to be competitive in duals this season due to low turnout, the change is a welcome one.

Capital is scheduled to host the district championships this season, a week before the state Class AAAA tournament Feb. 20-21.

At the Jaguar Invitational, which runs through Saturday, Los Alamos will see a host of quality opponents, including Eldorado, Roswell, Goddard, Las Vegas Robertson and a pair of Texas squads, Amarillo Tascosa and Amarillo Palo Duro.

Physically, Soreson said he thinks his squad is ready to go.

“For this time of the season, I imagine conditioning-wise were better off than most,” he said. “We’ve changed gears this week and started hitting on technique. I think right now we’re above most of the competition we’ll see.”

The early favorite in Class AAAA this season will once again be Belen, which has turned into one of the premier programs in the state, having won five straight AAAA titles.

Sorenson said he’s only concerned about getting his younger wrestlers some time on the mat this weekend and isn’t too worried about where anybody places.

The goals for the season around the program are pretty simple.

“We just want to improve every week,” Wilde said. “We want to get better and better and have a good showing at district and state.”

Los Alamos has high hopes for some of its younger wrestlers, such as freshman Nate Robbins, who will get the starting nod at 215 pounds.

Robbins, whom Sorenson spoke fairly highly of, has shown promise coming out of the Los Alamos Middle School program and in preseason workouts this season.