Anthony Juckes wrestled his way to an eighth place finish at the National High School Coaches Association National Wrestling Championships in the freshman division at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, Va., on Friday.
Juckes took eighth in the 120-pound weight class, wrestling against athletes from all across the country. More than 60 state champions and 225 state placers made up the field of over 400 freshman at the event.
"This is a big deal for us," said PV head coach Levi Stout. "It says a lot for our program and the training partners Juckes has had. He wouldn't be at this level if it wasn't for guys from last year's team such as Chris Edwards and Jhett Gomez, or guys this year like Nick Pacheco, Ryan Ruybalid and Sam Sandoval. It is a product of what he is around."
Juckes said he had to face several kids much stronger than he is. After winning the 4A 103-pound state title as an eighth grader, Juckes followed it up with a state title at 113 pounds as a freshman.
At 120 pounds, Juckes said, other boys have an advantage on him but it didn't stop him from hanging in with the best in the country.
"It was pretty tough. Kids from all over the country have different wrestling styles and they are really strong," Juckes said. "The guys I faced are huge compared to the 113s.
"The first match out here was kind of like a warmup for me after cutting to 120 pounds. My first match of the second day of the tournament was really tough against a kid from Alaska but I beat him 5-2. The match after that I lost to a guy from Virginia who eventually got first place out here. I was only down 9-5 against him, but with 10 seconds left I went for a toss and he ended up on top of me so he beat me 11-5. It was a tough match with a tough kid."
After losing to the Virginia state champ, Juckes faced a wrestler from Ohio. With a loss, Juckes wouldn't have placed and would have failed to become an All-American, but he was able to pull off a 5-4 win in overtime.
The win advanced him into Friday's finals, where he eventually lost by four points to a boy from North Carolina.
But with the eighth-place finish, Juckes was named an All-American and he will be recognized at the National High School Hall of Fame Museum in Easton, Penn.
Juckes said he hopes to take first place at the tournament by the time he is a senior, which would put him in pretty good company.
According to NHSCA.com, NHSA Senior Nationals alumni make an average of 15 of the 20 NCAA Division I National Wrestling Championship finals appearances each year, and they win an average of seven of the 10 national championships each year.
In 2011, 46 of the 80 NCAA All-Americans competed in the Senior Nationals.
Juckes hopes gaining attention at the nationals can help his push to wrestle at one of the top colleges in the country.
"I feel a lot better about myself after getting this far, and there are a lot of college coaches watching," he said. "Last year Cael Sanderson (Penn State) was here, and I think this is a good way to get recognized."
Juckes and Stout both said it felt good to see New Mexico succeed at such a high level at the nationals, with guys from all over the state competing in the finals.
"It is huge for the state. This year for the first time I ever I heard some comments from people saying that New Mexico is really stepping up,." Stout said. "I came here when I was a high school wrestler and I only won a few matches. I have brought other guys in the past and they were toast. To see kids like Eric Montoya (Volcano Vista) and Juckes tearing it up is awesome."
Stout also took Sandoval, Ruybalid and Ryan Rino to the tournament. He said it was special seeing Ruybalid pin a kid from St. Edwards, Ohio, which is typically the No. 2-ranked school in the country.
Rino also beat a state champion from New York while Sandoval did his best in a brutally tough 86-man bracket.
Sandoval and Pacheco will head to Missouri next weekend for the Brute Nationals, where they will both have a chance to be crowned All-Americans by placing in the top eight in their weight classes.
Juckes said he will compete in the Aztec Warrior Championships at McGee Park, the first Rocky Mountain Nationals Event in the area.
Stout said he is hoping to send an entire team to the event, where the boys will also have a chance to compete in Freestyle and Greco as well as Folkstyle.