“Repeat” is not a four-letter word, but Nick Sanchez, Belen wrestling coach, avoids using it as if it was a form of profanity.
“I don’t put much emphasis on it,” Sanchez said, nearly 10 months after the Eagles captured the 4A State Wrestling Championship by a half point over Bloomfield.
Sanchez may be content to soft-sell another possible title, but “repeat” was on most minds as the Eagles hit the mat Nov. 6, the first day of practice.
BHS is pinning its hopes on plenty of top talent, although the Eagles graduated four state placers, including Ely Gutierrez, their lone individual champion.
Returning are Joshua Jaramillo, Derian Rodriquez, Augustine Lopez and Diego Avila, who all scored points at state last year. Avila competed with a torn ACL, and now with surgery behind him, the two-time state champion wants to redeem himself after finishing third.
“I’m excited to wrestle this year with a normal knee,” said Avila, who is a 145 pounder.
Avila missed baseball and football season because of the injury.
“I think it motivated me even more because I want to come back so bad,” he said.
Jaramillo, state runner-up as a sophomore last year at 107 pounds, is ready to go after earning All-American status at major tournaments in Las Vegas and Des Moines during the summer against the nation’s top youth wrestlers. An individual state title is one goal and, dare we say, a “repeat” team championship is another.
“Everyone here knows that Belen is a wrestling town,” Jaramillo said, “and the tradition is to be dominant in this sport.”
About 20 participants are expected to compete for the girls’ team, minus state runner-up Andie Saiz, who graduated in May.
Competition in 5A will be “stacked” once again, featuring the likes of Cleveland, Rio Rancho and Volcano Vista, with Los Lunas in the mix.
“We’ve always been in the hunt for bringing a state trophy home,” said Steve Chavez, long-time LLHS coach.
The Tigers’ missed out on third-place in 2023 by just one point, and were led by 215 pound champion Miguel Andrade, who graduated.
A lot of firepower returns in state placers, such as Noah Gurule, Ernie Gonzales, James Bachicha, Jasiah Baca and Talley Logan.
“The nucleus doesn’t look too bad at all,” according to Chavez, who will also rely on young wrestlers to complete the lineup.
There were no complaints from the Tigers’ as they went through an intense workout on day one.
“Competing is fun. Wrestling is fun, with your friends,” said Gurule, a 114 pound senior. “You’re allowed to kind of kick their butt a little bit. It’s hand-to-hand combat.”
Chavez says the LLHS program sustains itself through commitment, which is ingrained in the athletes.
“Once they pick that up, then they get that little hunger and it just develops into a good program,” the coach said.
Chavez hopes to have increased participation in the girls’ program, led by senior Mia Carbajal-Hartog.
“The girls that we have work really, really hard,” he said. “They’re tough. I’m proud of them.”
It continues to be a numbers game at Valencia, where coach Emanuel Aragon works to increase interest in wrestling.
“We’re slowly building our number of participants so that we can go up against some (top) teams and hold our own,” Aragon said.
The effort included offseason workouts that ramped up immediately after the final match, “practicing a little harder, a little extra.”
Senior Elijah Duran begins the season with much enthusiasm and high expectations.
“To take down everyone,to run through everyone and take state,” Duran said.
To reach that goal, Duran has been “doing extra drills, extra workouts, anything I can.”
Aragon said new wrestling approaches were introduced last year.
“They’re really excited to apply those concepts to see how far it can take them,” the coach said.
The Jaguars’ girls team will miss Neveah Bracamonte, but seniors Katie Booth and Zipporah Heneghan are shooting for a berth in the state tournament.
“Just the unity that we have,” Heneghan gives as a reason for the optimism. “I like that I get to use my physical abilities to dominate over other people.”
The all-class state girls’ wrestling championship may still be in its infancy, but Booth is one of the sports’ veterans.
“I’ve done it for ten years now,” going back to youth competitions, “and I just like it,” Booth said.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.