Wrestler's inclusion continues long line of success for Panthers
FARMINGTON — Piedra Vista's Nick Rino was arguably the best wrestler in New Mexico at 145 pounds this past season, and the argument in Rino's favor may have been cemented this week when he was named to Zia Wrestler's New Mexico Dream Team.
The Dream Team consists of 14 wrestlers, one wrestler from each weight class. All individual state champions are nominated for the team, and the final team is decided by votes from coaches across the state for Zia Wrestler, a website dedicated to prep wrestling in the state.
Rino said the recognition ranks as one of his top accomplishments, rivaling placing finishes at the middle school and freshmen national tournaments in 2014 and 2015 in Virginia Beach, Va.
"It's pretty high up there for me. Being named the best wrestler in your weight class in the entire state is definitely something to be proud of," Rino said. "Our coaches aspire for us to be on that list more than any other one. Wes (Rayburn) being on it last year, and me being there this year says a lot about where we're at. I think it's up there further than eighth grade and freshman year in Virginia Beach."
Rino's selection to the Dream Team is the fifth straight year a PV wrestler has received the honor. Fellow PV junior Wes Rayburn was named to the team last season, Anthony Juckes had the honor in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and Sam Sandoval and Ryan Rino, Nick's older brother, were selections with Juckes in 2014.
"It's huge for Nick. It's big for the program and all our coaches. All our assistant coaches put in so much time to work with these kids. We want to continue to build tough, strong kids who can continue to earn accolades like this year after year," PV coach Michael Bejar said. "Again, it comes down to everyone's help in the program. When one person does something like this and gets recognized, I think it speaks volumes for the program."
Rino got his nomination for the dream team by scoring a last-second win in the 6A state title match against No. 1 seed Justin Wood, a freshman from Carlsbad.
Heading into the title match, Wood sported a 36-0 record while Rino, the second seed, was 30-2. In the final seconds of their match, the score was knotted at 2 when Rino exploded out from under Wood for an escape as time expired to win his third straight state title.
"I looked and saw the ref put his hand up for one point and thought, 'Holy crap. I did it,'" Rino said, remembering the match. "I looked at my coaches and Wes — that was priceless. Wes (jumped over) the fence and was standing there waiting for me. I looked back and saw (former PV coach) Levi (Stout) standing up, my parents were standing up, the whole PV crowd was standing up. It was indescribable. Out of all three (titles), that one is the most (treasured)."
Rino said being named to the Dream Team has already given him motivation for next season.
"I'm already ready to come back. We're only a month out of the season, and I miss it like crazy," Rino said. "Next year is going to be just as tough, no matter who's in my weight class, but I already feel more prepared and ready to dominate my matches. I definitely feel like I have more motivation to make the Dream Team next year after making it as a junior. I think this set the tone for what it's supposed to be like in my senior year. I definitely feel as if it's repeatable and anything less isn't acceptable."
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.