FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista wrestling team has raised the bar even higher this season.
After winning three state titles in a row, the Panthers have reached new heights, including a No. 10 ranking in the Wrestling USA/National Wrestling Coaches Association South West Region poll. PV is the top-ranked New Mexico team in the region that includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah.
"It is a big deal for us in a tough region with some crazy good teams," said PV head coach Levi Stout. "We are going to work to get even higher on that list, but it makes the target on our back even bigger. It won't matter if we are in Bloomfield or Reno, Nev., people know who we are and will give us their best match."
PV returns three state champions and five state placers from its 2013 state championship team. Leading the pack is three-time state champ Anthony Juckes, who is still just a junior.
"When you have all that talent, you have to push it and get the most out of the caliber of kids," Stout said. "It would be easy to sit back and just get by, but our coaches are going to push as hard as we can to get those guys wrestling the best they can."
Juckes will wrestle at 138 pounds this year. Returning state champion Jacob Palmgren will float between 126 and 132 pounds, and fellow state champ Ryan Rino is locked in at 152 pounds.
Returning state placers from last year include Sam Sandoval, Phillip Archuleta, Dillon Strunk, Zach Ahlgrim and Wyatt Weaver.
A year ago, the Panthers placed 13 of 14 wrestlers on the podium at state en route to a team score of 314.5, nearly double that of second-place Los Lunas.
"Winning state is still our ultimate goal, but we have some other goals we are talking about. We are going to try to get seven finalists this year. We had five last year," Stout said.
PV is also hoping for a top-5 finish in the 82-team Sierra Nevada Classic in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 27. His team will leave Christmas Day for the big meet.
"It speaks volumes about our kids, parents and the community support we have to go to this tournament and allowing us to take their kids on Christmas," Stout said. "We can't thank everybody enough for giving us that support to our hard-working kids."
Stout hopes to see good competition in District 1-4A against Aztec and Farmington. He also said Capital should have a solid team in Class 4A this year.
"It will be interesting to see what (Jesus) Mendoza does at Farmington with his guys. They have some big names on that team that should do well. I hope they push us a bit," Stout said. "With Herb Stinson in his second year assisting the Aztec team, it should be making a difference over there."
Other area coaches know PV will be formidable all year.
"PV lost some good kids, but they have a lot coming back and some younger kids coming up who will be very good," said Kirtland Central head coach J.J. Sandoval. "They are still the team to beat. I don't know if they will score over 300 points again at state, but they could get close. I still fully expect them to be the state champs."
Regardless of who PV wrestles, Stout believes his team can take any other in the state.
"We scrimmaged Cleveland a few weeks ago and did very well and dualed Rio Rancho and won by 25 or 30 last weekend," Stout said. "I think we can wrestle with anybody in 5A. Weight class per weight class, we are the more solid team."
Head coach: Monte Maxwell
Last year's finish: Seventh in state
Key returners: Isaiah Valdez, Justis Francisco and Royal Yazzie
New additions: Josh Snow
Season outlook: "The guys are looking good. We have had them longer this year with football not making the playoffs. It is nice, but it is a double-edge sword because we like those guys playing football as long as they can. We haven't had a meet yet, so we will see how the guys do when they hit real competition this weekend in Bloomfield. I am excited to see all of our young guys. We have some tough sophomores and juniors and guys with experience returning. It will be fun to see how they all compete. We want our guys to develop and become better and tougher. We are not looking for wins and losses yet, just experience and getting better. I would love to say we will place 14 guys this year, but we know that is impossible. We still have two and a half months to go, so it is hard to tell who will be up there." -- Monte Maxwell
Head coach: Jesus Mendoza
Last year's finish: 12th in state
Key returners: Cesar Haro-Torres, Champ Mendoza, Cobey Hamblin, Francisco Alvarez and Tierney Staley
New additions: Aaron Newlon, Isiah Frank and Tradden Allison
Season outlook: "Everything is going really well in practice and with conditioning. We have some great returners and some kids that have experience and should do well. We also have some good young guys, including Allison, who won the Basin recently for Hermosa. Our district is going to be really tough, and our goal is to get a top-two finish in district. It is tough with the three-time champs in PV here, and Aztec has a solid team. Sandoval over at Kirtland has some good guys that are tough, too, so it won't be easy. Our upperclassmen have a bright future, and a lot of them are coming off a huge state title win with football. They are riding that high. The thing I love about them is they understand the concept of team and teamwork. They bring that to the room and make it known. They are on a quest." -- Jesus Mendoza
Head coach: J.J. Sandoval
Last year's finish: 14th in state
Key returners: Aidan Cockrell, Bryceson Arthur, David White and Keishaun Aspass
New additions: Brad Benally, Jalen Platero, Kyle Jim, Matt Munoz, Shilo Yazzie and Wendell Lewis
Season outlook: "We don't have many experienced wrestlers. If you take David White out of our lineup, the next most experienced guys are Aidan Cockrell and Keishaun Aspaas, and they are sophomores. We are looking to do the basic things and not getting into too much trouble. We don't want the young guys to pick up bad habits. I should get a young eighth grader in Jalen Platero on varsity, and, hopefully, he could end up placing for us. I truly feel our district is the toughest in 4A. When you look at points scored at the state tournament, we had more state placers than any other district in 4A. It is our last year in 4A, and I think we can make an immediate impact in 3A next year. It won't be easier with those 3A schools, but I think if we can get the young guys some confidence in 4A this year it will really help, and we are looking forward to that move." -- J.J. Sandoval
Head coach: Greg Shoemaker
Last year's finish: Sixth in state
Key returners: Troy Rightmire, Alex Portillo, JD Robinson, Donny Trujillo and Paul Jaramillo
New additions: Avery Scott, Adrian Vigil, Corbin Nelson, David DeHerrera, Levi Whitley, Rudy Vigil and Tristan Trujillo
Season outlook: "We are pretty young, but all of these guys have been with us since they came up in eighth grade. Our three seniors, Alex Portillo, Paul Jaramillo and Troy Rightmire are the leaders of the group. We are fiddling with our lineup and trying to get it worked out. We were only 60 percent when we won out in Gallup last weekend, so we are trying to build off of that. We are trying to stay positive and gel together. In the past, we haven't had that, and it always makes it difficult to finish strong. This year, we want to finish the way we know we should. We have a lot of guys with a good shot to place at state, especially those three seniors. Our junior high coaches have done a real good job feeding the program. They won the Basin this year, and that was really big for our guys. We pretty much know St. Michael's will be tough in our district. We are supposed to have the district meet at our house, but it ended up going to Shiprock due to some unfortunate circumstances. It will at least be good to have a few of our duals here at Bobcat Gym this year." -- Greg Shoemaker.
Head coach: Ben Frazier
Last year's finish: Eighth in state
Key returners: Micah Devore, Harlan Ross, Raygen Charley, Julian Franklin, Ty Hayes and Quadry Smith
New additions: Miguel Russell
Season outlook: "We want to compete in our real tough district with Bloomfield and St. Micahel's. It will be real good competition, and we want to be up there and make our case for the district championship, especially because we are hosting it here in Shiprock. We want to become district champs. We scheduled some meets in Santa Fe to get a glimpse of St. Mike's, and we are going to Bloomfield this weekend to see them. If our boys come out and wrestle the way we know they can, we should be fine. Another interesting thing this year is we have six female wrestlers, which is the most we have ever had. We have some talented new guys to mix with the returners who qualified for state last year. The biggest thing will be our mind-set. We want to be the aggressor on the mat and not wait for things to happen. We want to be exciting." -- Assistant coach Sean Hayes.John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.