The Piedra Vista Panthers are one week away from winning a third consecutive 4A state wrestling championship.
After winning a fourth consecutive District 1-4A title Saturday in convincing fashion with 231.5 team points — 89.5 points ahead of second place Aztec — winning state is the only goal left.
Winning district was never in question for PV in Kirtland on Saturday, but head coach Levi Stout said he still takes satisfaction in winning the district, because he knows it has come through hard work from 14 boys in the wrestling room each day.
“This is a healthy appetizer for us. Our goals are set for the state tournament, but we know we have to win here first,” Stout said. “We have to come in here and wrestle tough and show everyone we are the team to beat at state.”
The win gave the Panthers four consecutive DIstrict 1-4A team titles.
Piedra Vista had 13 of its 14 wrestlers in the finals and 10 of them won district titles.
The finals started with a Piedra Vista win as Sam Sandoval won the 106-pound championship against Aztec's Dillon Blue. Sandoval was able to pin Blue quickly for the win.
The Panthers won again at 120 pounds with Jacob Palmgren, who won the Rocky Welton Invite in Garden City, Kan., rolling past Keishaun Aspaas of Kirtland Central with a pin win of his won.
“It felt really good. I have never been on a team where we won districts or state or anything,” said Palmgren, a Colorado state champion who transferred from Del Norte, Colo. “It has helped me a lot being on this team. And my practice partner, Sam, helps a lot.
“I am ready for state, and I am trying to go for no points scored on me. That is my goal.”
Palmgren's win was the start of four consecutive championships for PV wrestlers.
Ryan Ruybalid continued his return from injury with an impressive 7-4 decision win over Farmington High's Brandon Padilla.
It was the seniors fourth district title, and he is looking for his first state title after finishing sixth, third and fifth the last three years.
“Ryan has a vision quest. That was a huge step for him because Padilla is no slouch,” Stout said. “Padilla is an awesome wrestler, and we pretty much handled that match. It is great for Ryan's confidence, and it should be good for his state seeding.”
In one of two great finals matches, PV's two-time state champion Anthony Juckes defeated Aztec's Robert Escojeda in a 5-2 decision.
Escojeda had won the previous matchup this year, and Juckes was more than happy to get the win Saturday.
“Robert is a really tough kid, so it feels good,” Juckes said. “I think that will give me the No. 1 seed at state, and Robert should get the No. 2. I will probably get to see him in the finals.”
Winning on Saturday was a big hurdle on the year for Juckes, Stout said.
“The first time they wrestled there was a questionable call that decided the match. Since then, Juckes has been hearing orange and black bells. He was ready to get that one out of the way.”
Wyatt Weaver completed a great regular season with a district title at 138 pounds when he defeated Aztec's Royal Yazzie via an 18-3 technical fall.
Weaver has completed a comeback from a broken pinky finger that required surgery.
“It was huge for us to have him keep wrestling. He is that kind of kid where it doesn't matter if he is hurt or sick, he is always training hard,” Stout said.
In the middle of the pack, Ryan Rino secured a first-round pin victory over Farmington's Tierney Staley to win the 152-pound district title.
“Rino is peaking at the right time, and I am super impressed with how he looked today. Sharp, in control, great set ups, good speed and finishing his shots,” Stout said.
Wyatt Hardy also claimed the top prize in district at 160 pounds when he pinned Aztec's Justis Francisco in the second round.
John Ellsaesser was back in his PV singlet at 182 pounds despite an elbow injury, but he didn't have to wrestle a match. He was the No. 1 seed entering the tournament and drew an automatic bye into the final.
Stout decided against letting Ellsaesser test out the elbow, giving Aztec's Austin Wagner a district title via forfeit.
“It was a win-win for us. We got to keep the elbow healthy one more week before we start pounding on it,” Stout said. “He was a bit upset at me, but I am looking at the big picture.”
PV closed out the day with three more victories in the upper-weight divisions.
Zach Ahlgrim scored a first-round pin against Kirtland Central's Virgil Morgan and heavyweight Kason Wilkinson pinned Aztec's Landon McNeil just seconds before the end of the third period.
But in the match of the day, it was PV's Christian Acosta defeating Aztec's Brad Hardin 6-4 in overtime in the 220-pound division.
Acosta held a one-point lead late in the match, but Hardin scored an escape point to tie it just as the buzzer sounded.
But Acosta's experience was too much for Hardin in extra time.
“In overtime, I just went right into knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I didn't do exactly what I wanted to do, but it ended up coming out good for me,” Acosta said. “Hardin is a great kid and good opponent, and I like wrestling him. I hope to see him in the finals.”
Stout wasn't only impressed with Acosta's win, he credited the senior for helping make the rest of the upper-weight guys better all season.
“Christian was definitely the more experienced wrestler in that match today. Hardin is the better athlete, but I think hard work will beat athleticism any day,” Stout said. “A lot of credit goes to our assistant coaches, but also the guys in the room like Christian. A lot of our bigger guys wrestle with him and Russell Wyrum, who isn't a varsity guy but practices with those guys. They are great partners to wrestle. You just don't have a choice in our room at any weight class but to work hard and get better.”
Also coming in second place for PV on Saturday was Philip Archuleta (113) and Dillon Strunk (145).
Strunk lost another great match against Aztec's Isaiah Valdez in an 11-8 decision.
“Hats off to Valdez. Those guys are split on the year, and I wasn't expecting to lose that match,” Stout said.
Archuleta lost a 9-5 decision to Kirtland Central's David White, who he had beat a week earlier in overtime.
Upset by the loss, Archuleta was back in the PV gym running stairs and drilling as soon as the team returned to the school.
PV qualified all 14 thanks to freshman Alberto Marquez, who has stepped into the 170-pound slot recently.
“That is huge for us for him to qualify. He will score points. I had to explain to him that the two guys at 170 in the district final were two of the toughest kids in the state,” Stout said. “I think Alberto will definitely score at state.”
Aztec is considered by many to be a top-three team in the state at 4A.
After beating the Tigers by 89.5 points, Stout said it shows his team is ready for anything that comes at state.
“We haven't seen Aztec hardly at all this year, and we got that done now. They are a pretty tough team and they came ready to wrestle, but I think we only dropped one match to Aztec,” Stout said. “It says we are ready.”
District 1-4A Wrestling
1. Piedra Vista 231.5
2. Aztec High 142
3. Kirtland Central 105
4. Farmington 75
1. Sam Sandoval, Piedra Vista
2. Dillon Blue, Aztec
3. Glen Allen, Kirtland Central
1. David White, Kirtland Central
2. Philip Archuleta, Piedra Vista
3. Cobey Hamblin, Farmington
1. Jacob Palmgren, Piedra Vista,
2. Keishaun Aspaas, Kirtland Central
3. Jesse Ridgely, Aztec
1. Ryan Ruybalid, Piedra Vista
2. Brandon Padilla, Farmington
3. Emmanuel Simpson, Kirtland Central
1. Anthony Juckes, Piedra Vista
2. Robert Escojeda, Aztec
3. Francisco Alvarez, Farmington
1. Wyatt Weaver, Piedra Vista
2. Royal Yazzie, Aztec
3. Bryceson Arthur, Kirtland Central
1. Isaiah Valdez, Aztec
2. Dillon Strunk, Piedra Vista
3. Sam Chee, Kirtland Central
1. Ryan Rino, Piedra Vista
2. Tierney Staley, Farmington
3. Romi Hogue, Kirtland Central
1. Wyatt Hardy, Piedra Vista
2. Justis Francisco, Aztec
3. Aaron Frank, Kirtland Central
1. Adam Lucero, Aztec
2. Essiel Carrasco, Farmington
3. Alberto Marquez, Piedra Vista
1. Austin Wagner, Aztec
2. John Ellsaesser, Piedra Vista
3. Josh Netzer, Kirtland Central
1. Zach Ahlgrim, Piedra Vista
2. Virgil Morgan, Kirtland Central
3. Omar Ramirez, Farmington
1. Christian Acosta, Piedra Vista
2. Brad Hardin, Aztec
3. Orlando Contreras, Farmington
1. Kason Wilkinson, Piedra Vista
2. Landon McNeil, Aztec
3. Richard Garcia, Kirtland Central