Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photos
Belen’s Troy Norcross decisions his Goddard opponent at the Leonard Kirby Invitational.

BELEN — Valencia County high school wrestling teams seem to be hitting their stride with the new regional tournament approaching.

At the Leonard Kirby Invitational, the host Belen Eagles captured the boys title in the 10-team field, which featured a dual format.

The Valencia Jaguars only had two boys compete, but coaches are optimistic VHS has several wrestlers who could qualify for the state championships.

Meanwhile, Los Lunas won the team title at the Pojoaque Valley Invitational, with seven individual champions, including Miguel Andrade, who improved to 29-0.

Belen, Valencia and Los Lunas are halfway through what are called “district duals,” after each squared off last week against several district rivals and concluded district competition Wednesday against the remaining teams.

While district champions are crowned, the results no longer qualify wrestlers for the state meet. Regionals will determine the competitors who move on to the A and B state championships Feb. 17-18 in Rio Rancho.

“It’s going to be a tough region. We’ve got Silver, Cobre and Deming,” Belen coach Nick Sanchez said of several top teams in the region. “Right now, we’re trying to stay healthy, praying, while still working as hard as we can.”

Sanchez believes the Eagles can handle the pressure.

Valencia’s Elijah Duran pins a Deming wrestler Saturday at the Kirby Invitational.

“It’s hard for them not to feel the pressure when they see those (state championship banners) up on the wall every time they come in the gym.”

Even though the Valencia boys are lacking in overall team numbers, coach Emanuel Aragon is pleased with how the season has gone.

“Valencia is shaping up better than expected,” Aragon said.

The Jaguars gave up some points because of forfeits but “head-to-head, our kids are able to battle with their opponents” and often win.

Aragon believes Elijah Duran has a good shot at reaching the state finals at heavyweight, while freshman Yovan Suarez could surprise at 107 pounds.

Aragon also believes the girls’ team has the talent to finish in the top three at regionals.

The LLHS boys are undefeated in district competition heading into the three-match finale Wednesday in the LLHS gym. (After News-Bulletin deadline.)

“I’m really happy right now where we’re at with the kids,” said LLHS coach Steve Chavez, who added that he needs several wrestlers to step up.

His focus right now is on the regional tournament.

“We need to get as many wrestlers to the dance (state tournament) as we can,” Chavez said. “After that, anything can happen.”

The girls’ regional for LLHS, VHS and BHS is Friday at Del Norte High School, with the top wrestlers advancing to a combined state tournament.

There are two classes this season for boys. Los Lunas is in 5A with 26 other schools. The regional tournament is Saturday, Feb. 11, in Las Cruces.

Belen and Valencia compete in 4A with a total of 38 schools. The regional tournament for both is Friday-Saturday, Feb. 10-11, in Socorro.

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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.