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It might have been the strangest year in Las Cruces High School wrestling coach Kevin Marks’ highly successful career.
Because of the pandemic, wrestlers had to compete with masks on, couldn’t travel more than 200 miles for any tournaments until state and had limited practice time.
Still, the Bulldawgs ended up with another strong season.
The boys went 14-1 in dual meets, including 5-0 in district, and won their third straight district championship. They also scored Marks his 500th career dual-meet win over Carlsbad on May 1.
The Las Cruces boys ended up with a state champion, a third-place finisher and a sixth-place finisher.
The Las Cruces girls, in only their second year as an official high school sport, finished second in their district and had a state champion and a state runner-up.
“This team showed a lot of camaraderie on both the boys and girls,” Marks said. “They work together as team and hung out as much as they could. When things started to open back up, they’d do little activities.
“It’s a great group,” Marks said. “They treat each other with a lot of respect. It’s a great room and a great atmosphere for the kids to be in.”
Because of the pandemic, New Mexico had its wrestling season in the spring instead of winter, with the state championships being held May 29 at the Rio Rancho Convention Center.
At state, Las Cruces junior Avery Atma won an individual championship for the second straight year. The junior took first at 126 pounds after finishing first last year at 120. As a freshman, Atma took second.
“Avery has always wrestled,” Marks said. “He went through all the youth programs and is very committed. He does a lot of work in the offseason to improve himself and he is super dedicated.”
Las Cruces High had a second state titlist – junior Heavynne Robles-Wright, who took first in the girls competition at 106 pounds. Last year, she took fourth at state as a sophomore.
Robles-Wright is the first official state girls wrestling champion in school history, Marks noted.
She says she likes wrestling because it is an individual sport and she doesn’t need to rely on anyone else to succeed.
“If I work hard, I’m the one who is winning,” she said.
Las Cruces High had a second girl finalist at state. Eighth-grader Alyssa Sedillo took second at 100 pounds.
“The lowest weight class is 100 pounds and she weighs under 90,” Marks said. “So, she was competing against older kids and heavier kids and was still able to get it done.”
Sedillo, who attended Zia Middle School but competed for the Las Cruces High varsity, said she was disappointed in taking second, saying she was used to winning after years of competing on club teams.
“I know I need to do more conditioning and work to perfect my moves,” Sedillo said.
Centennial sophomore Tye Barker (138 pounds) was the third state champion for Las Cruces schools this year.
Barker said finishing second last year at 120 pounds and losing to Atma in the state finals helped to drive him this year.
Barker finished undefeated during the year and topped that off with a first-place showing at state last month.
The Centennial wrestler said he loves the individual aspect of wrestling but was quick to credit his coaches and teammates with helping him prepare and achieve his goals.
He also said his background as a soccer player and in martial arts helped to prepare him to excel in wrestling.
Besides Atma, Las Cruces High had two other boys who made an impact at state.
Junior Elijah Ojas was third at 145 pounds. Ojas suffered a disappointing loss in the semifinal round but came back strong to take third place.
Marks said Ojas’ showed a lot of heart and character to bounce back from disappointment to take third. Ojas was sixth last year as a sophomore.
Bulldawg freshman Aden Martinez took sixth at 120 pounds.
“I was really happy when I put on the singlet (wrestling uniform) this year that said Cruces,” Martinez said. “It’s been a dream of mine.”
Las Cruces finished 11th at state in the boys team competition and fifth in the girls and were just eight points away from winning the girls team title.
Las Cruces High wrestling was largely made up of juniors and underclassmen this year, so Marks is expecting another strong effort next season.
“I’m happy we had some sort of season and culminating event (state) where they could celebrate their hard work,” he said. “We are hoping for a more normal season next year with a lot of state placers and state finalists.”