Panthers, Tigers head to California for meets

Jake Newby
jnewby@pnj.com

FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista and Aztec wrestling teams get back into the swing of things this week after the holiday break, competing in separate meets in California.

Wrestling

The Panthers are in Norwalk, Calif., for the Tournament of Champions at Cerritos College, while the Tigers wrestle in the Blackwatch Tournament in Upland, Calif. Both programs participated in the same events last year.

In last year's Tournament of Champions, PV earned a second-place finish in a 63-team field. This will be the fifth meet of the year for the Panthers, who have placed in the top three in both of their last two competitions. Coach Michael Bejar said he thinks he has a solid lineup that has a chance to make some noise again this year.

"We won't be at full strength, but we have a lot of kids who can certainly do well this week," Bejar said. "It depends on their mindset and what they took from this last tournament that we had."

The Panthers won four straight dual matches at the Panther Classic on Dec. 19 before losing badly to Cleveland — the No. 1 ranked team in New Mexico — by a final score of 50-18.

Juniors Jared Terry (285), Adrian Tarwater (220) and Haden Cox (182) won't make the trip to Norwalk for PV, Bejar said, but the team still expects a strong performance.

Taylor Atencio (132) and Nick Rino (145) look to build off their undefeated individual performances in the Panther Classic. Wes Rayburn (138) and Hosman Caraveo (152) won titles the previous week at the Las Cruces Invitational on Dec. 12.

Bejar said he expects his team to be motivated after falling to Cleveland.

"These guys don't like to lose," he said. "I think some people would take that as a victory, placing second. But I asked them after the tournament, 'How many of you guys are satisfied?' And none of them raised their hands. So that's a good thing for these guys. They have that drive to improve."

The Tournament of Champions will run from Tuesday through Wednesday.

Aztec begins a two-day meet in Upland on Monday for Blackwatch, a tournament where the Tigers snagged fifth last season out of 62 teams. The goal for coach Monte Maxwell and the Tigers is to top last year's finish.

"Our goal is to finish higher than we were last year and bring home more placers," Maxwell said. "We'll get some real good experience and tough match-ups against some good opponents."

Josiah Griego (106), Cody Candelaria (120), Austin Littlefield (145) and Josh Snow (152) placed for the Tigers on Dec. 18-19, when Aztec took eighth out of 33 schools in St. George, Utah.

Maxwell said those four athletes should do well again in Upland, and he think a few others have a good chance at placing.

"Dylan Sutherland (182) and Melvin Benally (172) were right in the hunt there last meet," Maxwell said. "Dylan lost two very close matches."

Aztec heavyweight Waylon Wasson and 138-pound Dillon Blue will make their season debuts at Blackwatch.

Both District 1-5A wrestling teams look at this trip as a bonding opportunity. After their respective meets, PV and Aztec will visit the Knott's Berry Farm Theme Park in Buena Park, Calif. Maxwell said it should be a fun experience for his wrestlers, but only after they take care of business.

"It's obviously a business trip, but we'll head to Knott's Berry Farm the morning of the day we leave," Maxwell said. "After we work, it'll be good for the guys to have a little fun."

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.