FARMINGTON — The Aztec and Piedra Vista wrestling teams seem to share the same early-season goal of challenging themselves as much as possible before the state tournament rolls around.
The Tigers are back at the Blackwatch Tournament in Upland, Calif., on Tuesday and Wednesday, while PV returns to Reno, Nev., on Wednesday for the Sierra Nevada Classic. The Panthers last attended the two-day meet in 2013, but ditched it in favor of the Tournament of Champions in Norwalk, Calif., the past two seasons.
Panthers coach Michael Bejar said the team's decision has less to do with a craving for more competition than the TOC offered, and more to do with leaving the team's comfort zone.
"We had some valuable experiences in Norwalk, don't get me wrong. But we wanted to get a look at different teams, get a different feel," Bejar said. "We're gonna see some really tough competition and I think we need that."
PV is coming off a great three-meet stretch in which the school placed second at a loaded Las Cruces Invitational, defeated a stingy Monticello, Utah, squad in a dual and then emphatically won its own Panther Classic meet.
Now the Panthers are in for another daunting task if they hope to excel in the 88-team Sierra Nevada Classic, which will feature schools from Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and California, according to Bejar. He said he hopes to see continued progress from his team.
"We're not where we want to be, we want to peak in February," Bejar said. "And we're definitely going to be challenged there. This tournament is gonna show us exactly where we are. It will be grueling, but the goal for us is to get as many kids on the podium as possible and come back healthy."
Aztec goes into its fourth meet of the season with some momentum, having defeated Taos in its season-opening dual, winning the Bloomfield Invitational, then sending four wrestlers into the final matches of their respective weight classes at the Desert Storm Classic in St. George, Utah. Cody Candelaria, at 126 pounds, was Aztec's lone champion.
Coach Monte Maxwell's Tigers placed fourth at last year's Blackwatch Tourney, and he believes his squad can improve on that placement. He also said this tourney will serve as yet another measuring stick for the Tigers, who hope to corral a district title this season.
"We've been in three really strong tournaments, with another coming up in Winslow (Arizona)," Maxwell said. "We're looking to improve on our finish by putting in good, constant effort, and we want to see kids scoring at the end of periods. Obviously we want the ones who placed last year to move up in placing."
Maxwell said he doesn't anticipate bringing his full team to Upland, due to ineligibility issues for some and injuries for others, so he's relying on the 'next man up' philosophy.
"We're missing a few kids, we'll see how that works out for us," Maxwell said. "We're taking four freshmen and three sophomores, but we got kids who are good about effort and working hard. We have a few kids who have stepped up like Garrett Birzer, and we expect more of the same at this meet."
The two-day Blackwatch Tourney consists of 64 schools and ends on Wednesday. PV finishes up in Reno on Thursday.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.