Kirtland Central takes third in the tournament behind strong performances from Cody Manuelito, Jyden Dodge
AZTEC — The Aztec wrestling team defended its home gym well until slipping up against last year's third-best team in Class 5A during today's Four Corners Orthodontics Tiger Duals.
Capital, which placed third at state last year and 57.5 points in front of fifth-place Aztec, toppled the Tigers 48-35 in the championship dual at Lillywhite Gym in Aztec.
The Tigers hung with Capital, thanks to wins by Josiah Griego (113), Cody Candelaria (126), Dominic Dufur (145) and Austin Littlefield (152). Griego scored a huge win, pinning defending state champion Ryan Romero five minutes and 20 seconds into their match. Griego held an 8-5 lead at the time.
After Littlefield pinned Abel Barraza at 1:50, Aztec found itself behind Capital by just one point, at 36-35. But Tigers coach Monte Maxwell said he suspected that was the last win his team would reel in.
"Our 182 and 195 kids, one's an eighth-grader and one's a freshman," Maxwell said.
Ethan Scott (182) and Caleb Varzeas (195) both were pinned in the final two matches of the day.
"Capital's a very tough, physical team," Maxwell said. "They're aggressive. They've got some good kids on their roster."
Griego, Candelaria, Dufur and Littlefield were stellar for the Tigers with a combined 20-0 record for the day. The Tigers reached the final by knocking off Los Alamos, Monticello, Utah, and Bernalillo in their opening pool, and then Kirtland Central 42-30 in the championship pool.
KC won its opening pool by knocking off Bloomfield, Española Valley and San Juan, Utah. The Broncos brought the fight to their District 1-5A foes, according to KC coach JJ Sandoval.
"We wrestled Bloomfield and Aztec, and I was pleased with the way my kids wrestled both duals," Sandoval said. "I'm proud of my kids today. They wrestled for six minutes, and they just didn't stop. I saw great effort today."
He didn't win, but Jarryd Pollard provided one of KC's most memorable moments of the day by taking Aztec's Hunter Medina into overtime, where Medina earned a 17-15 victory.
Jyden Dodge (285) and Cody Manuelito, one of the best 182-pound wrestlers in his class, lifted KC with each going 5-0. Manuelito has lost only once this season.
Bloomfield was without five wrestlers — including defending state champ Avery Scott — due to either sickness or injury. The Bobcats started the day by going 2-1 and then took second behind Del Norte in the silver pool. There, Bloomfield won a tight match with Los Alamos 37-36 before falling 48-21 to Del Norte.
Bobcats coach Greg Shoemaker said he thinks his team is on the right track with the state tournament less than a month away.
"I think we'll be very competitive by that time," Shoemaker said. "I think we'll give some teams a run for their money. We're getting there. We're fighting through stuff right now."
Levi Whitley (132) and Michael DeHerrera (220) have been Bloomfield's backbone all season, and they both went undefeated today in Aztec.
It wasn't a great day for Farmington, which was placed in one of the toughest opening pools of the day, against Capital, Del Norte and Shiprock. Farmington was upset by Del Norte 38-34 and went 1-2 to start. The Scorpions then settled for second place in the bronze pool, where they beat Española Valley 60-24 but were edged by Monticello 35-33.
"We were really physical with Capital. We gave Capital a good run, then we kind of just went flat," Farmington coach Jesus Mendoza said. "There's going to be good days, and there's going to be bad days. Today was our bad day. I'd rather get it out of the way now than later down the road. Let's get it out of the way, and let's keep working."
Francisco Alvarez (145) and Dante Norberto (285) paced the Scorps with unblemished records.
Shiprock was toughened up by its opening-pool duals against Capital, Farmington and Del Norte — all of which were losses — as the Chieftains stormed through the consolation bracket with a 2-0 record and first-place finish.
The Chieftains bested fellow Class 4A foe Bernaillo 54-18 before sliding past San Juan 48-30. They were led, as usual, by Logan Charley (195), who went 5-0. Charley even defeated Del Norte 220-pounder Manuel Chino instead of opting for a forfeit at his normal weight class.
Charley has been progressing well for the Chieftains, according to assistant coach Sean Hayes.
"Overall, we've had some tough tournaments. He tasted defeat earlier in the season, and those defeats, he's taken as learning lessons," Hayes said. "He's coming along, and he's getting better every time out."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.