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Piedra Vista wrestling builds dynasty

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The Piedra Vista wrestling fingerprint could be construed as being part Aztec, part Rio Rancho.

But the end result belongs solely to the Panthers.

Among the many tense battles expected this weekend at the state wrestling tournament at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, the pursuit of the blue trophy in Class 4A is not expected to be among them.

Mirroring the dynastic ways of Aztec in the 1990s and Rio Rancho in the 2000s, the state has one program — in this case, Piedra Vista — operating at a level clearly above the rest.

“This program just keeps rolling,” said senior Ryan Rino, last year’s state champion at 152 pounds but in the 138-pound division this week. “It’s like a religion to be dominant on the mat here.”

That was the theme in Aztec, when the Tigers steamrolled to 11 straight titles in Class 3A from 1990-2000. That was also the prevalent mood at Rio Rancho, which bagged an amazing 10 blue trophies between 2003 and 2011, although in two of those years (2003 and 2004) there were two separate state tournaments — one for teams, another for individuals.

The Panthers this week are going after their fourth consecutive state title. They talk as boldly as those juggernaut Rio Rancho teams. But their influence has Aztec stamped all over it.

The Panthers’ coach, Levi Stout, was a state champion for Hall of Fame Aztec coach Herb Stinson in 2000.

So when Stout took over the Piedra Vista program in 2007, it was inevitable that Stinson’s teachings would be ingrained into the curriculum.

“We did the same thing, day in and day out,” said Stout, 32. “It was redundant and monotonous. But it turns into muscle memory. We had a handful of moves and that’s what we did at Aztec. And nobody could stop us.”

Stout believes that Piedra Vista, with a great showing, could have as many as 10 or 11 finalists on Saturday afternoon.

If things go sour, “we can get six,” Stout said, six being an excellent number, too.

Piedra Vista is rated 13th in the Southwest (which also includes California) by USA Wrestling magazine. The Panthers beat both Rio Rancho and Cleveland head-to-head this season.

“After we beat Cleveland, that kind of solidified us, we thought,” said three-time state champion Anthony Juckes, a junior chasing his fourth title this weekend, at 145 pounds.

“Personally, I think for us, (state) is just another tournament, but one we want to blow out of the water. We’re looking to break records, that kind of stuff.”

Piedra Vista qualified wrestlers at all 14 weights this weekend. Last year, the Panthers scored 314.5 points and lapped the field.

Stout believes 321 (set by Aztec) is the all-time single-season mark.

“I definitely think it’s doable,” Juckes said.

Much like the Rams, the Panthers — who actually have been oft-injured this season but are finally, for the first time, at full strength — are benefiting from a terrific youth feeder system. They also know the advantage of traveling the country to acquire matches, both in-season and during the offseason. And Piedra Vista’s depth is perhaps second to none.

But even with all that, Stout said, he didn’t sense that this program was ready to explode.

“I didn’t realize what kind of teams we were putting together until maybe the second year we won state (2012),” he said.

The weekend should bring more glory for Piedra Vista, but the Panthers prefer to think big picture.

“You can’t just be satisfied,” said senior Jacob Palmgren, a state champ last February at 120. “We’re never satisfied. You have to keep working to get to the next level, and that’s where we all want to be.”

n Cleveland and Rio Grande are the co-defending champions in 5A. St. Michael’s won last year’s Class 1A-3A event, and the Horsemen have a potential five-time champion in Koery Windham. Only three other wrestlers have ever won five individual titles.

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