Piedra Vista went to Garden City, Kan., hoping to place just a couple of wrestlers in a tournament with nationally-ranked competition. Not even head coach Levi Stout could have imagined Saturday's result before the tournament begin.
The Panthers took second place in the Rocky Welton Invite, finishing with 155 team points. Ark City Christian Academy, Kan., took first with a team score of 200.
Seven of the 14 PV wrestlers placed while several more helped earn points in the consolation ladder.
"I knew we were tough, but I didn't know we were that tough," Stout said. "The competition here is absolutely amazing. It is what we came here for. I was hoping and praying to place in the top five."
Jacob Palmgren took first place in the 120-pound weight class by defeating Reese Cokeley of St. James High School, Kan., in a 10-4 decision.
Cokeley is a defending state champion in his classification in Kansas.
"It feels pretty good to win. They really respect wrestling out here, and that is what I like," said Palmgren, who won a state title in Colorado last year with Del Norte High.
Palmgren (33-0) wrestled his first few matches defensively, Stout said. Stout and Palmgren sat down and talked together after Palmgren's 5-3 overtime win against Great Bend's Cody Liles in the quarterfinals.
"Coach told me to stop wrestling to not get any losses. He said it was OK to have a loss or two if I went out there and wrestled aggressively," Palmgren said. "I had a real tough match in the quarterfinals, but after that I picked it up and wrestled my hardest."
Palmgren's attention now turns to winning a second state title in as many years and in as many states.
"It would be kind of cool to win state in New Mexico and Colorado. I don't know many people who can say they are a state champ in two states," Palmgren said.
Since joining the team as a junior this year, Palmgren has been a leader for the team on and off the mat.
"He knows what he is talking about and has a good attitude about every thing, and that rubs off on all of us," said PV senior Christian Acosta of Palmgren. "When he first came in we had heard rumors about him but we didn't really know what to expect. Now that we are in the season, he is the best leader on the team."
Acosta (38-3) also wrestled in the championship match in the 220-pound division. He met up with Cleveland High’s Clayton Panky, who is the only wrestler to defeat Acosta all season.
Panky once again got the better of Acosta, winning in overtime 7-5 with a takedown.
“It was a good match. My opponent got the better of me today, but it will push me to do even better in the room,” Acosta said. “Overall, it was a good trip with a lot of good competition. I don’t get to see a lot of that in New Mexico, but guys here had a bunch of different styles. It was good to see that, and I know it will have me ready for district and state.”
Cleveland High, the top-ranked team in New Mexico regardless of classification, placed four wrestlers in championship matches but took fifth place in the tournament with 137.5 points.
“Going into the tournament, nobody knew who we were. Leaving, everyone knows who we are,” Acosta said. “As a team we grew stronger together, and everyone on the team knows where we are and can sense what we will do in the state tournament. We just have to keep motivated by picturing ourselves raising the state trophy.”
When asked if he thought Piedra Vista proved it is the best team in New Mexico on Saturday, Palmgren didn’t hesitate to answer.
“I honestly think we are. I wasn’t able to wrestle Cleveland in our dual with them the first time when we lost. I think we could have beat them if I did,” Palmgren said.
Philip Archuleta scored 22 more team points for PV with a third-place finish.
Archuleta (39-7) fell to Cleveland’s Paul Mascarenas (34-1) in the semifinals in a 17-1 technical fall, but he battled back in the consolation semifinal to defeat Andale High’s Hunter Furnish 12-9. Archuleta then won via pin in the third-place match against Bear Creek High’s Jaysen Yakobson.
“This is huge for Philip. He took big steps,” Stout said. “He is do everything he possibly can to get better. He is getting his opportunities and taking advantage of them.”
Sam Sandoval (106) and Ryan Rino (152) each placed fourth in the tournament to earn 20 team points each.
Sandoval lost in the semifinals to Ark City’s nationally ranked Logan Terrill via a 11-1 major decision.
Also taking sixth place was Anthony Juckes (132) and John Ellsaesser (182).
Juckes’s weight class featured three state champions and three runnerups.
Ellsaesser sustained an injury in his final match, but Stout is hoping everything will check out okay after a doctor visit when the team gets back to town.
PV also had several kids earn points in the consolation ladder.
“Dillon Strunk and Wyatt Hardy were heroes for the points they scored. Their toughness and willingness to fight for the team is something I really look up to,” Acosta said.
With the strong finish, Stout hopes to see Piedra Vista climb back into the WrestlingUSA.com Southwest Region poll.
The Panthers were ranked No. 14 after last season, but fell out of the rankings as of the last poll released Nov. 26, 2012.
“We placed higher than four of the teams on that poll,” Stout said. “Cleveland is No. 8. Cleveland is a very good team for sure, but I know we are a great team, too, especially in tournaments.”