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FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista wrestling team is sure to be challenged this season.

The Panthers have been a dominating presence in the state for the past several years, but the move from 5A to 6A this year, and placement in District 1-6A, won’t be an easy situation for PV to conquer.

The Panthers will join Cleveland and Rio Rancho, which have combined to win 13 state titles in the last 14 seasons. Cleveland won the 6A title last season with the Rams placing second.

“Every year is a challenge, but just because we’re going to 6A, and we’re getting a different label put on us, we can’t change our approach,” PV coach Michael Bejar said. “We have to go in with the same approach we have every year. We still have to have our same goals of being a district champ and a state champ. We want to fight for that title. If you reach for the stars and don’t get them, you can still get the moon — you’ll still get something.”

Cleveland and Rio Rancho highlight the district, but they're not the only threat. Volcano Vista hasn’t finished outside the top five at state in the last seven years and won the 4A title in 2010.

If there is an opportune time for the Panthers to make the jump to 6A, this may be the year.

PV only lost three seniors to graduation, albeit three key seniors who finished with two state titles and one runner-up last year, making this year’s team loaded with experience.

“We did lose those tough kids. Dylan (Greenhaus), Alberto (Marquez) and Taylor (Atencio), those are huge points. Those guys placed in the top three at every tournament. Those are tough points to lose, but we’ve got guys who will step up,” Bejar said.

Bejar said the Panthers will return seven wrestlers who placed at last season’s state tournament.

Leading the way for the Panthers will be juniors Wes Rayburn and Nick Rino, who enter the season with back-to-back state titles to their names.

Along with Rayburn and Rino, Bejar is expecting to get a big year from seniors Diego Sanchez-Morales and Ethan Salazar.

“Diego, he placed sixth last year and had some nagging injuries that I think kept him back from his full potential,” Bejar said. “Ethan, he was a state placer the previous year (in 2015), but didn’t make our (varsity) lineup last year because we have such a tough room. You just never know.”

PV’s first tournament will be the Las Cruces Invitational Dec. 9-10, which will give the Panthers a good look at some of the state’s 6A programs, along with strong teams from Texas and Arizona.

“There will be a lot of 6A teams that will be down there, and it will show us where we're at and what we’re capable of. We’ll find out where we can score points and what we need to improve on,” Bejar said. “I really like this tournament. I think it’s a great tournament, and it will expose your weaknesses, so we’ll know what we need to improve on throughout the season.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.

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