By Vern Hee
The Sunset League champions, Pahrump Valley Trojans wrestling team, broke hearts and bones at the 12-team divisional wrestle-off over the weekend, which determined the individual wrestlers going to state this year.
The team finished in third place at the tournament. Seven wrestlers will represent PVHS at the state tournament.
It was a brutal two-day competition in Las Vegas, the high school version of Wrestlemania.
Craig Rieger, head Trojans wrestling coach, sent 19 wrestlers to the competition.
At divisionals it is all about individual performance. The top four in each weight class move on. The Trojans will send four sophomores and three juniors this year.
The following will compete this Friday and Saturday at the Reno Livestock Event Center: Aaron Alcaraz, sophomore-106 pounds, finished in fourth place; Levi Gundacker, sophomore-113 pounds, finished in fourth place; Matt Hughes, junior-132 pounds, finished in fourth place; Stephen McCormick, junior-138 pounds, finished in second place; Scott Maughan, junior-160 pounds, finished in second place; Jax Clayton, sophomore-195 pounds, finished in second place and Jace Clayton, sophomore-220 pounds, finished in first place.
Last year, the team only sent one person to state. It’s the most the Trojans have sent since 2008, when 13 wrestled for state glory.
“This will be one of the youngest classes that I have sent to state,” said Rieger. “In 2008, most of the wrestlers were juniors and seniors. We are very excited about the next two years.”
Rieger said the Sunset League is filled with young wrestlers. He said he spent a lot of time scouting out all the wrestlers in the conference for next year.
“Of course, we are excited about this team too. When we went to last week’s divisionals, we were scouting and getting familiar with these teams. This is the first time back since ’08. So next year, I will be well prepared,” he said.
The Trojans entered the tournament a bit banged up. Some wrestlers were hurt and others sick.
Nick Nelson, a sophomore, made it through the quarter-finals on Friday with a win, but looked positively green afterwards.
“I have been sick for the past few weeks and I have not made some practices. I was coming in here not at my best. I kept telling myself to just go out and wrestle my heart out,” Nelson said.
He did precisely that, but his efforts were not good enough to make it through the semifinals.
Another sophomore, Levi Gundacker, had to fight his way through the quarter-finals on Friday. He was a hopeful to win the conference championship, but he also faced fierce opposition.
In his first match on Friday, one opponent from Boulder City even tossed him to the ground twice before Gundacker erupted like a volcano and did some of his own throwing. Once on the ground, his opponent succumbed to a pin in the second round.
“I faced him before; this is my fourth time and third time beating him,” said Gundacker. “He beat me the first time. I was not expecting him to be this tough.”
Gundacker would wrestle on Saturday and appeared he was going to make it to the finals, but he injured himself and had to forfeit his last match. Matt Hughes, a junior, also injured himself and had to do the same. Rieger explained the forfeits were good for the health of both wrestlers.
“It is strategy. Matty was pretty banged up in the quarter-finals on Friday. I know Matt Hughes. He is a pretty tough kid. So when he says he is banged up, plus I saw when he twisted his knee. He was banged up bad. So I thought, do you let him go up against a pretty good quality opponent from Faith Lutheran, that he had lost to before, who did win it all, or do we injury default and qualify? If he did wrestle that semifinal, he might have been hurt more. So the strategy was to get him qualified so he can get healthy and have a good state tournament,” remarked Rieger.
He said it was the same for Gundacker. Once the opponent finds out the extent of the injury, they take advantage of that.
“I knew the guy from Boulder City knew what I had injured and I knew he would take advantage of it in the final match,” said Gundacker.
What did Gundacker injure? Sorry, state secret, says the wrestler.
Both Hughes and Gundacker will be allowed to heal, and will both be traveling up to Reno.
The Clayton brothers, Jace and Jax, were excited about making it to state. They said they have a little competition between themselves, for wins and losses. This time around Jace won over Jax. He beat his man in the finals for first place, while Jax lost to his man in the finals, but still made second place.
“It was totally an unfair competition,” said Jax. “I had to face a man built like a Greek god and last year’s state champion in my match, while Jace did not.”
According to Rieger, everyone wrestled well, but there were some surprises. Alcaraz, a small guy just over five feet tall, made it to state despite a conference record of 4-6.
“All year we have been on him, and he has gone out, taken people down and he has been flopped to his back and lost matches,” said Rieger. “He has lost a majority of his matches. He is frustrated because he works hard. He is a very quiet mouse. This weekend he wrestled well. I have not seen it all year and what a time to show up, even the third and fourth place match that he lost, he wrestled tough and I am really pleased with him.”
The other surprises were the four alternates, all sophomores that went to wrestle, John Clark, Abraham Preciado-Castro, Jeremy Coates and Anthony Vega. Rieger feels they all wrestled well. Of those four, two placed. Preciado-Castro at 145 pounds finished fifth place and John Clark at 138 pounds finished in sixth place.
Other place winners not going to state: John Corrow finished in sixth place at 182 pounds, Nick Nelson finished in 5th place at 120 pounds.
When asked if he was surprised by the third place team finish at the divisional tournament, Rieger said, “Virgin Valley did not surprise us. We wrestled well that first day. We were tied for first at the end of the first day, I was happy with that.”
As far as what to expect when the team travels to Reno, he said, ”When you go up north, it seems like the north wrestles pretty good and when they come south, it seems like the south wrestles well. I am not sure if it’s the fans, the travel … I am not sure what it is. It will be a good tournament. Lowry, four time state champs, they are really strong and the team to beat.”