Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
State champ! Valencia’s Elijah Duran captured the 4A state title at 242 pounds during the Powerlifting State Championships.

RIO RANCHO — Valencia County athletes flexed their muscle during the first-of-its-kind Powerlifting State Championship last weekend at Rio Rancho Events Center. 

That included a gold medal performance from Valencia’s Elijah Duran in the 4A 242-pound weight class. 

“I just put everything into it and then once I hit it, it was like the best feeling ever,” said Duran of his final effort in the deadlift. “I just couldn’t control myself. It was just a big moment. I was proud of myself. I just started screaming and running out.”   

This was the first year powerlifting was sanctioned as a sport by the New Mexico Activities Association after starting as an activity during the Covid pandemic.   

The Jaguars and Belen boys and girls in 4A, along with Los Lunas in 5A, each had powerlifters score points. Athletes competed in squat, bench and deadlift, with the most poundage in each event combined for a final score.    

The best local team showing was VHS boys, finishing in fourth place. BHS was sixth as a team, led by senior Ivander Wilson, second individually at 181-pounds.  

“This day is very nerve wracking for me,” Wilson said following the squat, the first event. “I just try to sort out in my mind and make sure I’m in my head about things.”  

With only four qualifiers, Belen still managed to finish in fourth place during the girl’s 4A Powerlifting State Championships.

While Wilson, the top seed, is a senior, the Eagles have young talent returning, including freshman Mikey Pena who was fourth at 97 pounds.  

“If you want to be good enough, you just have to grind,” Pena said, adding that the large crowd “gives you motivation to lift more than you expect.”   

In 5A, LLHS was 10th in the boy’s competition.  

On the girls’ side, BHS managed a strong fifth-place effort in 4A, with just four competitors.   

“I feel like when I’m lifting, everything goes away. It’s just me and the bar,” said BHS freshman Asia Wilson, second at 114 pounds. “I’m good at it and I like to be good at things.”   

The large crowd didn’t rattle Belen senior Kendra Griego, who competed in the State Spirit Championships one week earlier. 

“I’ve been in front of a crowd since I was 4 years old,” Griego said of her start in cheer. “I’ve loved every second of it.”   

VHS was seventh with LLHS 16th in 5A.   

Freshman Jagger Casillas, of Los Lunas, finished third at 123 pounds at the 5A Powerlifting State Championships.

Despite being the inaugural championship, competitors and coaches gave it good reviews.  

“I love how many supporters there are. They’re just everywhere,” said Los Lunas sophomore Avery Martin, the Tigers’ only female qualifier. “It’s a good environment.”  

VHS senior Alayna Pacheco, whose sister, Christelle, took home third place at 97 pounds, said, “I like it. I’m a senior this year, so it’s super exciting. Something new.”  

The coaches, including Valencia’s Jose Lopez, seemed to agree.  

“It’s a really positive experience with all the schools, and no one is cheering against the other guy,” Lopez said.  

“The event is good for New Mexico. It’s good for the kids,” said Nathanial Charley, LLHS coach. “They’re seeing what other kids are doing around the state. It’s going to make us better.”  

Charley said 20 eighth-graders recently signed up to compete next season.  

Belen’s Chris Peralta said there were some growing pains with a first-time event of this size.  

“It seemed like we started like trial and error (Friday) with the girls,” Peralta said. “It seems like with the boys (Saturday,) it’s going a little bit better, more efficient.”  

For NMAA officials, it was a hectic weekend. 

“There’s a lot of ‘hands-on,’” said Scott Owen, assistant director of sports, who was seen carrying a power drill and bolt cutters on Friday.    

“Finding 12 powerlifting racks, 12 platforms and 24 weight trees,” to rent in New Mexico was “a unique hurdle that we’ve encountered,” according to Owen.  

So, the equipment was rented in Texas, trucked on a flatbed to Rio Rancho and put together.   

Other unique challenges include finding certified officials.  

“I think the longer we go and the bigger it gets, there’s going to be a larger pool of judges to choose from,” Owen said. “There’s going to be more opportunities to evaluate those folks.”  

Aside from the competitors, there were plenty of other high school students on the Events Center floor volunteering.  

“They’re doing a lot of work, spotting those kids and picking up those weights,” he added. “They are putting in a workout. There are so many moving parts and a lot of good folks willing to help out.”  

Boys 4A team results 

  1. Lovington, 49; 2. Espanola Valley, 38; 3. Deming, 22; 4. Valencia, 17; 6. Belen, 12

Boys 4A individual results  

114 pounds: 3. Joseph Palacio, VHS, sophomore  

123 pounds: 4. Mario Santiago-Diaz, VHS, freshman  

132 pounds: 4. Mikey Pena, BHS, freshman  

165 pounds: 5. Augustine Griego, BHS, sophomore  

181 pounds: 2. Ivander Wilson, BHS, senior  

242 pounds: 1. Elijah Duran, VHS, senior  

275 pounds: 4. Angel Lino, VHS, junior  

308 pounds: 5. Elijah Martinez, BHS, junior  

Super Heavyweight: 3. Taedon Gibson, VHS, senior  

 Boys 5A Team Results 

  1. Cleveland, 47; 2. Sandia, 28; 3. Rio Rancho, 24; 10. Los Lunas, 8

Boys 5A individual results  

123 pounds: 3. Jagger Casillas, LLHS, freshman  

Super Heavyweight: 2. Quinn Bachicha, LLHS, senior  

Girls 4A Team Results  

  1. Lovington, 59; 2. Silver, 36; 3. Portales, 34; 4. Highland, 14; 5. Belen, 13; 7. Valencia, 11 

Girls 4A Individual Results  

97 pounds: 3. Christelle Pacheco, VHS, freshman  

105 pounds: 4. Chiara Perez, VHS, junior  

114 pounds: 2. Asia Wilson, BHS, freshman; 3. Paige Delgado, VHS, junior  

132 pounds: 3. Valeria Banuelos, BHS, junior  

148 pounds: 2. Lilith Baca, BHS, senior  

165 pounds: 3. Alayna Pacheco, VHS, senior  

Girls 5A Team Results  

1, Rio Rancho, 39; 2, Cleveland, 32; 3. Clovis, 28; 16. Los Lunas, 1  

Girls 5A Individual Results 

259+ pounds: 5. Avery Martin, LLHS, sophomore 

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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.