The big stage is set: here are wrestlers to watch at State Championships in Rio Rancho

Matt Hollinshead, mhollinshead@daily-times.com


Aztec’s Bryson Valdez

Valdez has a knack for trapping foes on the furthest edges of the mat, easily locking them up by the upper torso area in those tighter spaces. That way it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for opponents to wiggle away and get back into a neutral stance.

Valdez (38-0) is fresh off a District 1-4A individual title, beating Miyamura’s Rhys Sellers (44-6) in the finals.

Carlsbad’sMarcus Najera

Najera’s building on his state wrestling tournament debut in 2019, demonstrating that he can take down some of the elites in his weight division right here and now. 

Najera (35-8) already has signature wins over Hobbs’ Daniel Leyva (19-9) and Santa Fe’s Jeremiah Padilla (28-11). Najera topped Padilla, the District 5-5A individual champion, during the Joe Vivian Classic and later beat Leyva for the District 4-5A individual title.

Najera and Leyva will do battle again in Friday’s opening round.


Cleveland’s Tristan Mascarenas

Mascarenas (31-5) eyes his third straight blue trophy in 2020.

Mascarenas edged Volcano Vista’s Moses Santiago (27-4) for the District 1-5A individual title, thanks to a critical escape-turned-takedown during the second period of the championship match.

Depending on the bracket shapes up, a Mascarenas/Santiago rematch would be a sight to see.

Bloomfield’s Adan Benavidez

Benavidez (45-2) cruised to the District 1-4A individual title with back-to-back first-period pins over Kirtland Central’s Price Thomas and Aztec’s Paul Vigil.

Benavidez secured both victories on quick takedowns, and he will look to continue putting away foes that way.


Las Cruces’ Avery Atma

Atma (35-3) showed no mercy against Deming’s Carlos Apodaca (23-6), cruising to an 18-3 technical fall decision for the District 3-5A individual title.

If a match drags on, that’ll be to Atma’s benefit because he can attack nonstop and run up the scoreboard.

And after taking state runner-up accolades in last year’s 5A state championships, Atma looks to make the next big push and bring home the blue trophy.

Piedra Vista’s Tyler Ramsted

Ramsted (35-7) looks to get off to a stronger start in the winner’s bracket in 2020.

Ramsted handled business in the opening round during last year’s tournament, but he endured a 10-2 major decision loss in the quarterfinals. Ramsted strung together two consolation wins before falling in the fifth-place match.

After back-to-back appearances in the fifth-place match, Ramsted, won recorded back-to-back first-period pins to win his second straight District 2-5A individual title, will need to make that next big push to have a real shot at potentially ending his high school career as a state champion.


Farmington’sTaeoma Frank

Frank delivered two critical near falls to push past PV’s Demetrio Archuleta for the District 2-5A individual title down in Albuquerque.

Frank (43-3) also showed the Duke City on multiple occasions he can respond to tough losses with key wins. Despite losing to Capital’s Jasper Mares in the Joe Vivian Classic quarterfinals, Frank exacted payback by beating Mares, the District 5-5A individual champion, for third place.

Mares and Archuleta stand in Frank’s way of a state title, but Frank should have confidence in the event he faces one or both foes again, because he’s already beaten both stepping foot into the Albuquerque area.

Valley’sAbran Lujan

Despite his 2019 4A state quarterfinals loss, Lujan strung together four straight consolation wins to bring home third-place honors.

Lujan (29-1) has been on fire ever since, capped off by back-to-back pins to clinch the District 6-4A individual title.

Lujan’s signature wins include two victories over Cibola’s Hawke Pacheco, the District 1-5A individual runner-up, as well as Manzano’s Dylan Justus, the District 5-5A 120-pound individual champion.


Kirtland Central’s Matthew Hawkins

Hawkins (29-12) is now starting to overpower foes when it matters most, as shown in his District 1-4A individual title run.

Hawkins had three key reversals against Aztec’s Sammy Minton (33-18) during the district semifinals, followed by back-to-back near-falls in the third period against Miyamura’s James Leleiwi (30-17) during the district finals.

Hawkins outscored Minton and Leleiwi by a combined score of 25-6.

Silver’sDaniel Jacquez

Jacquez (21-7) cruised to a 10-0 major-decision win over Ruidoso’s Isaiah Chavez to win the District 3-4A individual title.

Jacquez also took third place overall at the Pine View Invitational on Jan. 11 up in St. George, Utah, demonstrating he can make a deep run in bigger, unfamiliar venues.

After falling in last year’s 4A state quarterfinals, Jacquez eyes a deeper run this weekend.


Aztec’s Garrett Birzer

Birzer (25-4) is among three wrestlers representing the strength of the Tigers’ lineup.

Birzer already has key wins over District 6-4A individual runner-up Aarya Patel of Albuquerque Academy and Belen’s Damien Wood, the District 4/5-4A individual champion. Both victories came during the High Desert Tiger Duals on Jan. 25.

And after settling for third place in 2017 and second place in 2019, Birzer looks to end his high school career hoisting the blue trophy.


Aztec’sBode Wooley

After taking third place in 2018 and second place in 2019, Wooley looks to end his tenure with the Tigers as a state champion.

Wooley (42-5) cruised to his second straight District 1-4A individual title, pinning both Bloomfield’s J Gutierrez and Kirtland’s Zakk Thomas in the semifinals and finals, respectively.

Wooley’s signature wins came during the High Desert Tiger Duals. Wooley beat Albuquerque Academy’s Mason Alley, the District 6-4A individual champion, and Belen’s Martin Ammons, the District 4/5-4A individual champion.

Aztec's Bryson Valdez grabs hold of Miyamura's Rhys Sellers in the 106-pound division championship match during the District 1-4A wrestling championships on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, at Bobcat Gym in Bloomfield.


Carlsbad’s Mason Box

Box (35-4) has a chance to cement his legacy as one of the Cavemen’s all-time greats by concluding his high school career with back-to-back state titles.

Box has plenty of signature wins, including one over District 1-5A individual champion and 2019 state champion Manual Robles of Volcano Vista. Box also beat District 1-5A individual runner-up Jake Vialpando of Atrisco Heritage, as well as two-time defending state champion Alex Holguin of Cobre.

Cobre’s Alex Holguin

Holguin, who won the District 2-3A individual title, now has his sights on a potential three-peat at state.

Like Box, Holguin also beat Atrisco’s Jake Vialpando earlier in the season.

Holguin is 32-2 entering Friday.

Piedra Vista’sKyle Baker

Baker (38-2) pinned Eldorado’s Sam Bettencourt and Farmington’s Tyler Savell en route to his second straight District 2-5A individual title.

After taking third place in 2019, Baker eyes a blue trophy. And he’s already tallied a number of signature wins, including District 1-4A individual champion Zane Chapman of Aztec.


Deming’s J.D. Perez

Perez (39-0) is coming off his fourth straight district title, beating Gadsden's Tomas Herrera for the 160-pound division title at the District 3-5A championships.

Despite going up from the 126-pound division in 2017 to the 160-pound division in 2020, Perez has maintained his quickness on the mat.

Perez's giant signature win so far this year came against Carlsbad's Justin Wood, a two-time defending state champion.

Carlsbad’s Justin Wood

Wood eyes a three-peat at state this weekend.

Wood (19-2) already established himself as one of Carlsbad's all-time wrestling greats.

Wood cruised through the Joe Vivian Classic earlier this season, winning his first two match on back-to-back pins in the first period, and later beating Manzano's Daniel Montano and Sandia's Jayden Brown to secure the title. Brown beat Montano for the District 5-5A individual title.


Farmington’s Cirrail Allison

Allison (42-0) demonstrated time and again he’s as tough as anyone in the state.

Allison’s key wins include beating District 5-5A individual champion Andres Alvarado of Capital, District 4-5A individual champion Jacob Fuentes of Carlsbad and District 1-5A individual runner-up Jeremiah Perry of Volcano Vista.

Allison also beat Piedra Vista’s Joseph Archibeque to win the District 2-5A individual title.

After taking third overall in 2019, Allison looks to make that next big push and win it all.

Gadsden’s Hever Arreola

Arreola (41-2) is coming off the District 3-5A individual title.

Now he looks to build on that accolade and make a deeper run at state this weekend.


Farmington’s Zack Small

Like Cirrail Allison, Small (48-0) has been flat-out dominant on the mat.

Small is fresh off back-to-back District 2-5A individual titles.

Small’s signature wins include two victories against District 4-5A individual champion Trystan Rogers of Carlsbad, District 4/5-4A individual champion Alfredo Castillo of Belen and District 1-5A individual runner-up Levi Gustafsun of Cibola.

Silver’s Michael Aguirre

Fresh off a District 3-4A individual title, Aguirre (42-3) eyes his third straight state championship.

Aguirre won tournament titles last month at the Flower Wells Invitational in Tucson, Arizona, followed by the El Paso-Bowie tournament in El Paso, Texas.


Los Lunas’ Santiago Salas

After coming up just short the last two seasons, taking third place in 2018 and second place in 2019, Salas is ready for a serious run at a possible state championship.

Salas (27-2) is fresh off the District 4/5-4A individual title against an incredibly talented group for that particular weight division.

Salas beat Goddard’s Julio Flores and Grants’ Makaio Espinoza, who now have a combined 56 wins, to secure the district title.

Piedra Vista’s TJ Bell

After back-to-back state quarterfinals losses the previous two years, Bell (28-3) looks to make that next push and end his high school career with a state title.

Bell pinned both Farmington’s Kaidius Bordy and West Mesa’s Tyler Finley within the first 90 seconds to win the District 2-5A individual title.


Kirtland Central’s Ian Thomas and Aztec’s Caleb Varzeas

Thomas recently got the best of Varzeas, who beat Thomas for third place in last year’s 4A 195-pound bracket, to clinch the District 1-4A individual title.

Thomas (48-3) hoisted up Varzeas (32-9) late in the third period and threw him right to the ground for the winning takedown.

Thomas may have won this latest battle against Varzeas, but expect the war between these two to continue on this weekend in Rio Rancho.

Both Thomas and Varzeas, who will be on opposite sides of the bracket, could potentially do battle again in the state finals.


Atrisco Heritage's Ernest Martinez

Martinez was on the cusp of a state finals appearance in 2019, but Farmington's Dante Norberto tallied a quick escape in double-overtime to win last year's state semifinals match. 

Martinez then lost to La Cueva's Christian Rodriguez via 1-0 decision in the third-place match.

After winning back-to-back matches via first-round pins to secure the District 1-5A individual title, Martinez (36-1) is determined to finally hoist the blue trophy this weekend after last year's turn of events.


Aztec’s Makayla Munoz andPrincess Altisi

Fresh off the 126-pound individual title at the District 1 tournament, Munoz (30-0) primed for a state championship run.

Munoz has already took down 2019 state runner-up Cady Box of Carlsbad and 2019 state champion Neveah Young of Gallup during the second annual New Mexico girls wrestling tournament last month in Aztec.

Altisi finally took down two-time defending state champion Nancy Rodriguez of Miyamura via 2-0 decision for the 160-pound individual title.

That was a huge breakthrough for Altisi (28-2) because Rodriguez (32-4) had been a thorn in Altisi's side the previous two years. The pair met in the previous two state championship matches, with Rodriguez winning both.

Altisi, who's on the opposite side of the bracket from Rodriguez, looks to show New Mexico that's quickly catching up to Rodriguez.

Carlsbad’s Cady Box

Box (20-3) was the District 2 individual runner-up for the 126-pound division, but her 2019 state runner-up honor has her eyeing the top prize.

Box and Munoz would meet again if they both reach the state semifinals. But the fact Box recently fought Munoz and gave her some trouble, in Munoz's domain of all places, is an encouraging sign for Box.

Ruidoso'sSharon Minnix

Minnix (15-1) won the 132-pound individual title at the District 2 championships.

Although she will most likely have to beat either Cleveland's Samantha Tuttle or Miyamura's Yele Aycock to win the title, Minnix is no stranger to tough competition.

Minnix pushed Makayla Munoz to the brink going for third place last year, but Munoz came out on top via 5-4 decision.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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