RIO RANCHO — The Piedra Vista wrestling team's quest for a fourth consecutive state championship is off to a flying start.
The Panthers on Friday sent 12 of 14 wrestlers through to the semifinals during the first day of the New Mexico Activities Association's 4A State Wrestling Championship at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
PV finished the day with a total team score of 149 points, well ahead of second-place Deming's total of 94.
Panthers' head coach Levi Stout said it would have been tough for him to envision his team getting off to a better start.
"They competed great," Stout said. "We've accomplished our goals for the day, and, hopefully, we can push as many guys through (to the finals) as we can. They were going after it and really wrestling as a team today."
The lower weight classes have long been PV's strength, and those wrestlers again set the tone early in the day for the Panthers, racking up early pin fall victories.
Dylan Greenhaus notched an early pin in his first match and then picked up a hard fought 10-7 decision against Lucas Romero of Capital to set him up for a semifinal matchup at 106-pounds against the top seed, Miyamura's Toshio Herrera.
"I'm stoked to make the semis at my first state (tournament)," Greenhaus said. "I just need to be focused and wrestle the way I do and stay smart, and I can win this."
Wes Rayburn (113), Phillip Archuleta (120), Jacob Palmgren (132), Ryan Rino (138) and Anthony Juckes (145) all earned two victories via fall to advance to the semifinals for the Panthers.
Junior Sam Sandoval struggled more with a cut above his eye than with his two matches at 126 pounds. Sandoval's second match was halted repeatedly to stop the cut from bleeding, but eventually he was able to get back on the mat and finish with a fall in the third period to get to the semifinals for the first time since his freshman year.
"The hardest thing was I knew the blood was coming, and I'd try to hide it so I could keep wrestling, but (the referee) would catch it right away," Sandoval said.
Dillon Strunk (152), Wyatt Weaver (160) and Aaron Rino (170) continued the Panthers' roll with victories by fall in their first matches and then with decisions in the quarterfinals to keep their hopes of individual titles alive.
The only bumps in the road for PV came at 182 and 195 pounds.
Alberto Marquez (182) and Nick Varley (195) dropped their opening matches via decision.
Varley received a tough draw against the top seed in the weight class, Brian Geyer of Los Alamos, who came in with a 31-2 record.
Marquez and Varley battled back to win in the consolation bracket and will have a chance to finish as high as third place today.
Zach Ahlgrim (220) and Tristan Dwinell (285) finished strong for the Panthers, giving PV two more wrestlers in the semifinals with a pair of solid victories.
With the team title all but assured, Stout hopes to get as many guys as possible into the finals and see how many individual titles PV can bring home.
"It's about those guys competing for themselves now," he said. "They've been working hard for a championship. Those guys need to go out and get their individual titles."
Archuleta, Sandoval, Juckes, Palmgren and Ahlgrim all entered the tournament as the top seeds in their weight classes and will be the favorites to close out titles today.
Some other Panthers will have a tougher time and may need to come up with a surprise or two.
Rayburn has a semifinal match with a surprise competitor, Ryan Larko of Deming, who came in unseeded and is 15-12 this season. Should Rayburn advance, a likely matchup in the finals against undefeated Jose Tapia of Capital awaits.
Ryan Rino will take on No. 3 seed Arvis Alacron of Roswell in his semifinal with the top seed, Matt Lucero of Belen, still alive in the other half of the bracket.
Strunk has Edrick Boomgaarm of Deming awaiting him at 152 pounds with a title match against another undefeated Capital wrestler, Ernesto Salvidez, looming.
Weaver will take on the top seed at 160 pounds, David Padron of Deming, who finished both of his matches by fall in less than one minute.
Dwinell and Aaron Rino will both face the No. 2 seeds in their weight classes in the semifinals.
It was a hit-and-miss day for the rest of the District 1-4A teams, with each team advancing wrestlers to the semifinals, but not really factoring in the team competition.
Farmington High will have three wrestlers fight it out for a championship today with Cobey Hamblin (120), Tierney Staley (182) and Cesar Haro (195).
Hamblin picked up a pair of falls at 120 pounds and will take on the No. 2 seed, Angel Villa of Deming, for a place in the final.
Staley and Haro entered the bracket as the No. 2 seeds in their weight classes and didn't disappoint, notching two wins apiece to secure spots in the semis.
"We're feeling good," Staley said. "I just need to have fun. I said that at the beginning of the year, if I'm not having fun, then I'm doing something wrong."
The Scorps duo will face a pair of wrestlers from Del Norte, Ronnie Rel (182) and Ramon Artiaga (195), for a place in the championship match.
Two other FHS wrestlers, Traedan Allison (113) and Deangelo Phillips (220), remain in the consolation bracket.
Aztec had two wrestlers make it through the opening two rounds unscathed.
Isaiah Valdez (145) and Orien Israel (182) won twice and will compete in the semifinals.
Both have tough semifinal matches ahead against the top seeds in their weight classes.
Valdez will face PV's Juckes in a rematch of the District 1-4A title bout that Juckes won by major decision on Feb. 15 in Aztec.
Israel takes on Michael Marez of Grants, who will enter the match with a 39-3 record this season.
The Tigers have four other wrestlers still competing for a spot on the podium in the consolation bracket, Greg Passarelli (120), Royal Yazzie (152), Marcus Crawford (160) and Justin Slavey (285).
Kirtland Central's Keishaun Aspaas is the lone Bronco who went unbeaten on Friday.
Aspaas won two matches via fall at 126 pounds and will face Española Valley's James Vigil in the semifinals with the winner potentially meeting PV's Sandoval for the title.
Luke West (106), Aiden Cockrell (132) and Matt Munoz (160) are still competing in the consolation bracket.
Aztec finished the day in 12th with 41 points, FHS is in 13th with 40 and KCHS is in 20th with 24.Joshua Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.