RIO RANCHO — Javier Tapia saw the end was near, and it nearly shook him to his core.
Just before the Pojoaque Valley senior wrestler took to the mat for the Class 4A 170-pound final match Saturday at the State Wrestling Championships in the Santa Ana Star Center, his dad and Elks head coach Johnny Tapia reminded him this was his last high school match.
Tapia saw his career flash before his eyes and all the “tomorrows” were about to end.
“It all hit me, and I was kinda sad,” Javier Tapia said. “That was the last time I hit the mat with [my father] in my corner in this state, at least. Five years in the finals … ”
And the last four finals were special, as the Tapias walked off the mat celebrating a state title.
Javier Tapia put his emotions in check and took care of Silver’s Nathaniel Lucero, 8-0, closing the chapter on a family legacy. Along with brother, Jose Tapia, a five-time champion at Capital, they combined for nine individual crowns and were a part of a third-place team with the Jaguars in 2016. Javier Tapia opted to go his own way when his dad started the wrestling program at Pojoaque and he won three titles as an Elk.
Johnny Tapia said he was especially proud of this title because his son overcame a torn meniscus in his right knee that was not revealed until minutes after the fourth title was secured. The final was scoreless until the second period, when Tapia recorded an escape for a 1-0 lead, then almost pushed it to 3-0 in the second period when his reversal was waived off because time expired. He promptly got a takedown to open the third and dominated the last 2 minutes of the match.
“This was awesome,” Johnny Tapia said. “It never gets old.”
Neither does collecting team trophies at Las Vegas Robertson, which finished in second place in Class 1A/3A for its best finish in four years. The Cardinals had two wrestlers win state titles in eighth-grader Kaleb Medina (106) and Andrew Trujillo (132) as they scored 142 points to beat Socorro by 10 points for the runner-up spot. While no one caught Cobre, which finished with 240 points, Robertson seemed to be catching up to its storied past, which has seven state championships over the past 19 years.
“I was real proud of the progress these guys made,” first-year Cardinals head coach David Luna said. “At the beginning of the year, just putting together a team with some wrestlers who had never wrestled before [six in all] and getting them to take second in the state and get the placers that we did, I was tremendously pleased with that.”
Santa Fe High finished the 2018-19 season with a pair of Class 5A state champions in senior Adam Peña (at 120 pounds) and sophomore Miguel Padilla (126). They almost had three state champions, but senior Sammy Martinez lost 2-1 in a heart-breaking 152-pound final to Carlsbad’s Mason Box.
The match was controversial because Box recorded an escape in the final 3 seconds of the second overtime, but the clock did not start on the referee’s whistle, which allowed the Caveman at least an extra second to get free of Martinez.
However, Padilla and Peña provided the feel-good vibe for the bus ride home. Padilla made amends for coming up short last year in the 113-pound finals by winning the 126 title 5-4 over Rio Rancho Cleveland’s Santiago Marquez, 5-4, that was not as close as it seemed.
Marquez scored a couple of points because of stalling calls on Padilla. However, Padilla said he was merely trying to protect his position and not get caught trying to make a move that could get him into trouble.
“The ref was saying I wasn’t making angles into the side,” Padilla said. “But how he was moving, I was trying to stay behind him. In the second period, when I took him down, it felt like he could throw my arm when I went to the side of him. So I tried to stay under him and not give him space.”
Padilla added that he was motivated to win for teammate Isaac Beltran, who missed the last four weeks of the season for a suspension after punching an opponent during the Joe Vivian Classic. Beltran was one of Padilla’s practice partners, and Padilla felt he was instrumental in helping him improve.
St. Michael’s senior heavyweight Tayo Regenold won his first 1A/3A title when he pinned West Las Vegas’ Nathaen Urioste with just 3 seconds left in the match.
As great as the feeling was, Regenold was frustrated by Urioste’s unwillingness to even attack the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder throughout the match. It was so apparent that Urioste was docked a point for stalling in the third when he trailed 3-0.
“I just want to work with him,” Regenold said. “I want to have a good match with him, trade shots and whatnot, but he is just trying to get outside the mat. I don’t appreciate that.”
Few feel-good stories are better than the underdogs, and the Pecos Panthers fit the bill. The program brought five wrestlers to the tournament, and four reached the podium — with two finishing runner-up — to help it to a sixth-place finish with 61 points in 1A/3A.
Pecos almost brought home a champion at 160 pounds, but Socorro’s Orion Rottman got a takedown and a three-point near-fall that erased an 8-4 lead in the final 15 seconds and gave the Warriors freshman the crown. Despite that, Panthers first-year head coach and former Santa Fe High wrestler Benito Martinez said it was an encouraging sign to see the success Pecos had with such a small roster.
“They worked really hard this year, and the persistence in trying make the finals was our main goal,” Martinez said. “We accomplished our goal. It is hard going home with what we didn’t want [no state champion], but at the end, all of our goals were to be in the finals.”