At one end of the gym were the anxiety-ridden La Cueva Bears, the tournament’s fate in the hands of their heavyweight, C.J. Rodriguez.
At the other end of the gym were the equally uneasy Volcano Vista Hawks, their fate in the hands of Belen’s heavyweight, Estevan Chavez.
With a minute left in the final match of the Joe Vivian Classic, La Cueva’s Rodriguez had a 3-1 lead and the Bears were 60 seconds from their first major meet victory in many years.
But with 30 seconds left, Belen’s Chavez registered an escape, and then a takedown, and he held on for a thrilling 4-3 decision.
Those last moves by Chavez were the difference Saturday night between La Cueva winning the Vivian and the host Hawks winning the meet.
“When it comes down to the last match, it’s exciting for the sport in general,” said Volcano Vista coach Ahren Griego.
His Hawks scored 181½ points.
La Cueva scored 180 on an interesting night inside the Volcano Vista gym, which was hosting the Vivian for the first time.
“You know what?” said Javier Posa, La Cueva’s head coach. “This program has been through a lot. I’m very proud of the kids.”
The Hawks had a pair of individual champions Saturday night — senior Marcus Santillanes, who ran his record to 19-0 at 106 pounds with an 11-5 decision over Santa Fe’s Adam Peña (making Santillanes a three-time Vivian champ), and senior Richard Govea, whose first meet back this season went perfectly.
Govea, last year’s state champion at 160 pounds, claimed the 170-pound title Saturday as he major-decisioned Manzano’s Damin Valenzuela 11-1.
Govea injured his left shoulder in last year’s metros, but wrestled through the pain to win state. He had surgery after the season, and the Vivian was his first tournament back this season.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better,” Govea said. “I’ve been waiting a long time, and I feel like I came out and accomplished my goals.”
Runner-up La Cueva also had two champions: Matthew Peterson at 126 pounds, at which he decisioned Rio Grande’s Alejandro Gutierrez 7-2; and Josh Woisin at 195. Woisin decisioned Carlsbad’s Mateo Messer 5-2.
“La Cueva is inching its way back to the top in wrestling,” said Woisin. “This shows all the hard work we’ve put in.”
From inside Albuquerque, other champions included Sandia’s unbeaten Mark Gonzales (23-0) at 113 pounds and Rio Grande’s Sergio Arellano at 120.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” said Gonzales, a runner-up in this event last year — to Volcano’s Santillanes at 106.
Belen also had two bracket winners in Jeramie Flores at 160, where he dominated Rio Grande’s Dino Mulay (who was reportedly spotting Flores about 15 pounds), and Chavez at heavyweight. Chavez was a state champ last year at 220.
Capital’s Jose Tapia, who is in the discussion for best pound-for-pound wrestler in the state, major-decisioned Manzano’s Isidro Garcia 11-1 at 138 pounds. Tapia is 16-2, but those two are forfeits unrelated to a match. He is now a four-time Vivian champion.
Santa Fe, which was third in the team standings with 171 points, had three finalists and a first-place finisher in 152-pounder Isaiah Martinez.
The other champions were Robertson’s undefeated Jonathan Trujillo at 132, Justin Wood of Carlsbad at 145 (where he managed to grind out a 2-1 decision over Robertson’s Tristan Trujillo in the night’s closest final), Joey Castillo of Las Cruces at 182 and Dylan Kuhn from Hobbs at 220.
Wood, Woisin and Kuhn also are undefeated this season.
OUTSTANDING WRESTLERS: Sandia’s Gonzales was chosen the meet’s top wrestler in the light weights. Capital’s Tapia was named best in the middle weights. Hobbs’ Kuhn had the honor in the upper weights.
UPCOMING SCHEDULE: For the Albuquerque schools, the next major competition is the Metro Championships on Jan. 28 at La Cueva. There, Rio Rancho and Cleveland — who no longer include the Vivian on their schedules — will match up with all of Albuquerque’s best for the first time this season.
The next time this many of the state’s top wrestlers will be under one roof is Feb. 17-18 at the Santa Ana Star Center for the state meet.