Aztec looks to ascend to the top of 1-5A
Returning a wealth of experience, Farmington is poised for a district title run while Bloomfield and Kirtland Central look to make their mark in 5A
FARMINGTON — The Piedra Vista wrestling team's five-year reign at the pinnacle of District 1-5A ceased when PV was reclassified to class 6A, and now a host of local teams are set to grapple for the vacant district title.
Bloomfield and Kirtland Central join Farmington, Gallup, Miyamura and one school that could very well stand out from the bunch — Aztec.
The Tigers come into the 2016-2017 campaign having improved five slots on their finish at state from two seasons ago. Aztec took fifth last year after landing in 10th in 2015.
Coached by Monte Maxwell, the Tigers return many of the wrestlers who helped the team secure a second-place finish in the district last season behind PV.
Austin Littlefield was second at state in the 145-pound class as a sophomore, and Maxwell said he can see Littlefield's teammates taking notice of the junior's success and looking up to him a little more this season.
"We need him to step up as a leader in the room," Maxwell said. "And just do everything he can do to move up on that podium."
The Tigers lost just four seniors to graduation, so Maxwell said the district title is well within reach for his team, as long as it puts in the work this winter.
"We've got a lot of kids coming back with experience," Maxwell said. "We have five state placers in the room, one finalist. That's going to hopefully pan out to a good season."
Bloomfield nailed down second place in the state last year as a member of 4A, but coach Greg Shoemaker's team faces plenty of uncertainty in the move to 5A.
The loss of some contributing seniors — including state champion JD Robinson — aren't the only key losses that could slow the Bobcats out of the gate. Junior Diego O'Neill is out indefinitely with a concussion, while sophomore Christian Robison moved and will attend another school.
O'Neill and Robinson both placed third at state in February.
"We're going to be be young this year. We're going through some transition right now," Shoemaker said. "Unfortunately, we lost a couple of kids. We're probably going to get off to a little slow start. We did last year, too. We're trying to get everyone at the right weight right now."
Senior Avery Scott, a returning state champion, and junior Michael DeHerrera, who narrowly missed out on winning a state championship last season, should represent Bloomfield as two of the top wrestlers in the district.
Shoemaker said he also expects some underclassmen and junior varsity wrestlers to make an impact at some point this season.
"We got some quality young kids coming in," Shoemaker said. "And it's attributed to our Mesa Alta (Junior High) program and our youth program."
Farmington put together a great run at the state tournament last season in Rio Rancho, scoring 73.5 points to place eighth.
The Scorpions have a great chance to improve on last year’s showing after only one of the 13 wrestlers they sent to Rio Rancho graduated. Farmington coach Jesus Mendoza said the experience last year has him and the team pumped up.
“The kids are confident and excited, and we’re looking forward to the season. We’re looking forward to some big things this year,” he said.
Farmington will return two state placers — junior Traedan Allison and senior Aaron Newlon — from last year’s squad.
Mendoza said he’s looking for Allison and Newlon to provide leadership for the Scorps with their experience.
Along with Allison and Newlon, Mendoza is expecting a big season from junior Zach Valdez, who Mendoza said made a lot of improvements during the summer.
With high expectations for the season, Mendoza and the Scorps are well aware of the challenges that lie ahead in District 1-5A.
“This district has always been tough. Aztec always has a great program and continues to run with that tradition,” Mendoza said. “JJ (Sandoval) always does a good job with his guys in Kirtland, and Shoemaker and Bloomfield took state three years ago. You can’t look past anybody in our district.”
Kirtland Central placed fifth at February's 4A state tournament and sent five wrestlers to the podium. The Broncos will move forward without two-time state champ Aidan Cockrell, but coach JJ Sandoval said he thinks his current roster can accomplish a lot in 5A.
"I had a lot of kids last year that were freshmen, sophomores, that were on varsity. Well, now, those guys are juniors and sophomores," Sandoval said. "With another year of experience, I kind of think we're going to be better, to be honest with you."
Senior Luke West was one of those state placers last year, and Sandoval said he's expecting big things from the 113-pounder this winter.
The coach is also looking for juniors Meras Madrid, Jalen Platero and Brandon Silago, as well as sophomores Isaac Thomas and Cadyn Hartsfield, to do their part in order to keep KC in the district title hunt.
Joining the four San Juan County teams in District 1-5A are Gallup and Miyamura.
Miyamura tied for 12th last season with 58 points. The Patriots enter this year with a new coach, Nate Sellers, and only graduated two of the 12 wrestlers they sent to state.
Gallup placed 22nd at state with 4 points coming from Kenneth Cheromiah, who graduated.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.