The Panthers placed 11 wrestlers in the 4A state semifinals with an impressive display Friday, giving PV an early 32-point lead on second place Los Lunas at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
"I knew it was possible, but this is huge for us," said PV head coach Levi Stout. "Historically, we have been really tough on the bottom of the lineup with our smaller guys, but it is a pat on the back of our coaching staff to get the heavier weight guys into the semifinals.
"Our guys were disciplined, finishing their shots and getting bonus points with falls," Stout said.
Even the two wrestlers who lost quarterfinal matchups, Sam Sandoval (106) and Wyatt Weaver (138), wrestled to one-point decision losses in matches that could have gone either way depending on a few calls from the referees.
"I think Sandoval should have been in there. It is tough, but we have to deal with it and wrestle tough on the back side," Stout said of Sandoval's loss.
Sandoval (40-5) was the No. 1 seed in his weight class, but was pitted against Capital's Jose Tapia (21-2) in the quarterfinals. It was a match many would have rather seen in the state championship.
Weaver lost a tough 2-1 decision to state runner-up Alex George of Santa Fe, but Weaver poured every once of energy into the match, nearly reversing George right as the final whistle blew.
Across the board, PV performed
In the middle-weight divisions, Ryan Rino (152) and Wyatt Hardy (160) each had phenomenal days, each securing two pin victories to reach the semifinals.
"Hardy and Rino are practice partners, and they have both pushed each other . They are wrestling the best they have at the right time," Stout said.
Dillon Strunk (145) also won one of the more exciting quarterfinal matches of the day against Kirtland Central's Sam Chee. Strunk came away with a 18-12 decision in the end.
The Panthers are hoping for a rematch of the 1-4A 113-pound title match in the state finals as both Philip Archuleta and Kirtland Central's David White have advanced to the semifinals.
Upset with a close loss to White a week ago, Archuleta went back to work and performed extremely well Friday.
Jacob Palmgren (120) advanced to 35-0 this season with two decisive victories Friday, and the talented transfer who won a state title in Del Norte, Colo., a year ago will look to make it two state titles in a row in as many states with two more wins today.
Ryan Ruybalid (126) was in top form Friday, but he draws a tough semifinal match against Belen's No. 1-seeded Phillip Gonzales.
"He has beat me the last three years at the state tournament," said Ruybalid, a senior who has placed three years in a row but has never tasted the state title match. "I can't wait to wrestle him. I have been waiting to see him all season, and I am just glad I get to wrestle him."
Two-time state champion sophomore Anthony Juckes was unstoppable at 132 pounds Friday, and the bracket is set up for him to face Aztec's Robert Escojeda in a grudge match for the state title tonight.
John Ellsaesser (182) is also in the semifinals after looking sharp in his first two matches back on the mat since injuring his elbow during the Rocky Welton Invite in Garden City, Kan., earlier this year.
Ellsaesser faces a tough semifinal matchup himself against 21-2 Mark Hussey of Los Lunas.
Zach Ahlgrim continued to impress Friday with a big pin victory in the quarterfinals against Espanola Valley's Santiago Quintana (37-10).
"I was really excited. It is a big accomplishment for me to be here," Ahlgrim said. "I was a little nervous at first, but I got that out of me by my second match. I know I have a tough match tomorrow against the No. 1 seed who is a senior, but it would be really cool for me to go out and beat him and make it to the finals."
Christian Acosta has set himself up for a state title match in his senior season, and all eyes in San Juan County will be on him and Brad Hardin to see if the two can meet up in the championship match and duplicate their fantastic 1-4A title match from a week ago that went into overtime.
In the final quarterfinal match of the day, Kason Wilkinson (285) stunned everyone when he was able to score a takedown with just four seconds left in the match to defeat Valencia's Nathan Jolley 4-3.
"I never really saw myself as a wrestler. I had two really close matches that came down to one takedown. It really opened my eyes to how everything can come to an end down here," Wilkinson said. "In that last match, I just knew I had to get a takedown. Once I got it, I was just hoping those last few seconds would run out fast and that I could hold him down without having him escape. It was more panic than excitement."
Wilkinson is a first-year wrestler, and he credited his coaches for getting him to the semifinals.
"They have pushed me to my limits more than any other coaches in my life. They showed me my own mental toughness and what I can be," he said.
Stout is hoping to have six wrestlers in the state finals out of the 11 in the semis.
PV has never had more than three wrestlers in the finals.
"I would be ecstatic if we had six. As long as we wrestle our best, I don't see anybody challenging us for the team title, so I want to see these guys individually go out and finish what they started," he said.