The final dual-meet of the year was a celebratory occasion for the two-time defending 4A state champion Piedra Vista wrestling team.

The Panthers visited District 1-4A opponent Kirtland Central on Friday, winning every match to take a 71-0 victory.

It was just another strong statement sent by PV, this time coming just a week before the District 1-4A championships.

"I was kind of nervous because it seems like we haven't been on the mat in three and a half weeks since the Garden City, Kan., tournament," said PV head coach Levi Stout. "Being in the wrestling room we have with the kind of practice partners our guys get to see every day, I don't think we missed a beat."

PV had a long break after placing second in the Rocky Welton Invitational in Garden City, but that break also helped some injured Panthers return to form.

Ryan Ruybalid made his return to action in the 126-pound division with a technical fall victory at Kirtland Central on Friday.

Stout was impressed with Ruybalid in his return, and he expects Ruybalid to win the district title in front of Farmington's highly talented Brandon Padilla.

"Ryan looked great. He picked up where he left off before the injury, and maybe even picked it up a few notches," Stout said. "I feel good about him. He is a gamer and always comes to wrestle, so I am not worried at all."

Wyatt Weaver has also fully recovered from a hand injury, and Weaver scored a big pin win Friday night against the Broncos' Bryceson Arthur.


The one question mark in PV's lineup comes at 182 pounds, where John Ellsaesser continued to rest an injury sustained at the Rocky Welton Invite.

"He is doing good. We think he will be cleared the week of district. That is when the answer will come," Stout said. "His swelling is down and he has full range of motion and a lot of strength there, so I think he will be good to go."

Kirtland Central has struggled in recent weeks with four varsity wrestlers going down with serious injuries.

Head coach JJ Sandoval is hopeful that one of those wrestlers will be able to return this week for district, but losing at least three guys has devastated his team's goal of placing second in district behind PV.

"We lost kids who definitely would have qualified for state. I think two of them maybe would have had a shot at placing at state," Sandoval said. "That is the way it goes, but it is a little frustrating.

"It has been hard on the kids, especially if they lost their training partner. Now they have to practice with a JV kid, and they aren't getting better like they should."

The Broncos still have a lot of faith in Keishaun Aspaas at 120 pounds and Sam Chee, who has moved back up to 145 pounds.

Chee lost a close decision Friday to Dillon Strunk of PV, and Aspaas fell in the second round via pin to PV's Jacob Palmgren, but Sandoval expects to see those two improve on their efforts next week at district as they build into the state tournament run.

"Aspaas has wrestled some tough kids this year who have been state placers. He has wrestled tough, but for him it is a mental thing," Sandoval said. "Chee feels a lot better back at 145, and it will be the best weight class for him at state."

Aztec, Farmington and Kirtland Central are all chasing PV hoping to upset the champs in district, but Sandoval doesn't think it is too likely.

"Nobody is beating PV. To be honest, they would win the 5A state tournament," Sandoval said. "I thought if we had everybody we could challenge for second, but it is quite of an outside shot now."

Kirtland Central defeated Farmington in a dual-meet Thursday night, 48-25. FHS forfeited at four weight classes and Kirtland Central did at one, leaving the final score at 25-19 in favor of Kirtland in matches actually wrestled.

"Cecil Linnens has some good kids over at FHS," Sandoval said. "They are going to do well at district and state."

Cobey Hamblin has had another successful campaign at 113 pounds, and the Scorpions have been encouraged by the return of a healthy Essiel Carrasco (170) and Tierney Staley (160).

"We have a core of eight guys we have taken everywhere. They have all stepped up," said FHS assistant coach Jay Boushee. "I have been watching Padilla in the room, and he knows how to peak himself at the right time. He is setting the tone for every one else.

"Hamblin is wrestling very well after a small setback at the Joe Vivian when he lost two close matches, but I like where he is."

Carrasco will have a tough match at 170 pounds with Aztec's Adam Lucero, the defending district champ. Staley struggled with his game for awhile early in the year, but Boushee said he is turning the corner.

All eyes will be on the 132-pound division most of the day next Saturday inside Bronco Arena. Two-time state champion Anthony Juckes looks in fine form to make a run at a third consecutive title for PV, but Aztec's Robert Escojeda will certainly have something to say about it at district and state.

Another dark horse at 132 is Farmington eighth grader Francisco Alvarez, while KIrtland's Sean Sheppard is also in the mix.

"132 is the toughest weight class," Boushee said. "You have the two toughest kids in the state at that weight at PV and Aztec. Francisco got a huge win against Kirtland on Thursday for us, and he will have to do it one more time. He won't beat Juckes or Escojeda, so the rout to state for him is through Kirtland.

"Francisco has really been a bright spot for us. He has no fear and gets after it. He just doesn't know any better to realize what he has already been able to do at the varsity level in high school."

Boushee is confident Farmington's core of eight can all qualify for state to give the Scorpions a chance to score well.

Led by Escojeda and Lucero, Aztec will certainly be a major player Saturday, and head coach Monte Maxwell is still confident the Tigers can upset PV.

"The ultimate goal is to win district and qualify everybody," Maxwell said. "Our kids are prepared and ready to go. They have been working hard and putting in the time, now we just have to pick up the intensity."

With the emergence of Brad Hardin at 220 and two heavyweights who have shown good things this year, Maxwell is hoping to end the district championship with a few first-place finishers from Aztec.

Of course, Christian Acosta of PV will have a lot to say about the matchup with Hardin.

PV has only faced Kirtland Central, going the entire regular season without wrestling a match against Aztec or Farmington.

While that uncertainty in matchups may worry some coaches, Stout knows his team is ready for anything.

"Leaving the state as much as we did prepared us each week for big moments like this," Stout said. "Now all we need to do is open the guys' lungs up a few times this week, rest and recover."