The Taos Tigers put on a strong showing at the District 2-4A championship meet Saturday (Feb. 16) at Los Alamos High School. Every single Taos Tiger wrestler who competed in the tournament won a place in this weekend's state championship (Feb. 22-23): that's 14 wrestlers in 14 weight classes, all finishing in the top three in the district.
Not many years ago, there was only one district championship meet: the tournament. Though the district team titles for 2019 were already determined at a dual meet last Saturday (Feb. 9), Taos had the satisfaction of winning the district tournament this Saturday (Feb. 16) by 12 points, if not the blue trophy.
In 2018, the Tigers took third place in the state among class 4A teams and had two individual state champions, Tyler Valencia and Jessie Alaya. They're looking to do as well or better for 2019.
The Tigers will bring six district champions to the state meet.
After a bye and a quick win by fall in the second round of the tournament, Thomas Clarkson (29-6 and 113 pounds) won the district championship round by fall less than a minute into the first period. Before moving to Taos, Clarkson was a district champion in Texas.
Tyler Valencia (33-7 and 138 pounds), who took home the title in the 132-pound division in 2018, 2017 and 2016, had byes the first two rounds and pinned Israel Gellis of Los Alamos about halfway through the second period of the championship round. This is Valencia's fourth district championship.
The contest for the medal in the 152-pound division was intense. After a full six minutes, Cameron Gonzales (7-12) won the championship round by major decision (14 match points to 6). Congratulating his wrestler after the win, Head Coach Robert Valencia asked him, "How do you feel champion?"
Estevan Valerio continued his undefeated season (24-0 and 182 pounds) with a bye, a win by fall barely over a minute into the second period, and a second win by major decision in as many weeks over Dylan Irish of Los Alamos for the championship. Valerio was also district champion in 2017.
In the championship round Clayton Demas (21-6 and 195 pounds) beat Mateo Martinez of Los Alamos for the medal by major decision (15-6), making him district champion for the second year in a row.
After a bye, Dominic Lopez (26-3 and 285 pounds) won two matches by fall and a championship medal.
Eighth-grader Mante Chacon (22-16 and 103 pounds), Dominic Sillas (11-13 and 120 pounds) and Jessie Alaya (22-6 and 220 pounds) placed second in the district.
The Taos Tigers' five third places finishes came from Christopher Valencia (30-9 and 126 pounds), Joseph Chacon (14-20 and 132 pounds), Jason Montoya (4-18 and 145 pounds), Roman Quintana (3-13 and 160 pounds) and Justin Good (11-16 and 170 pounds).
The top three finishers at the district championship go to state (plus two wildcards across all of class 4A), so it's possible for a wrestler to qualify for state by having one very good day at districts. Still, the rest of the season does count. The wrestlers with the best records are seeded against the wrestlers with the worst records, thereby maximizing the chances that those who wrestled well all season will find their way to the final rounds at state.
At the tournament-style state championship meet, individual state champions are determined by tournament-style rounds - to win the tournament, a wrestler must go undefeated. In class 4A, the brackets for each weight class have 16 athletes. The team winner is determined by points, in the same manner as the district tournament. Depending on how they place, wrestlers earn numbers of points for their team. The exact number of points depends on how many teams are in the tournament, but the basic idea is that better finishes win more team points and the team with the most points wins the championship.
In 2018, Silver took the blue trophy with 270 points. Cobre won second with 176 and Taos was only 23 points behind them, with 153.
Qualifying rounds of the state meet begin at 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 22 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. Championship rounds will be Saturday, Feb. 23, also beginning at 9 a.m.