If you're a coach, the only thing better than having a strong team this year is getting them back next year.
This year is one of those great next years for Eddie Encinias, coach of the Tucumcari Rattlers wrestling squad. His returnees include Agustin Sandoval, a state champ at 145 pounds, and two returning third-place state finishers in Dillon Wood, 126 pounds, and Rudy Vallejo, 220 pounds. All three are seniors.
Encinias also places high hopes on senior Mario Chavez, 195 pounds, who was injured in a state semi-final match last year.
"I expect him to be a state champ contender," Encinias said.
Other standouts who have returned this year include Breysen Billings, a junior heavyweight at 285 pounds; Tim Skinner, a junior at 145 pounds; and another senior Jeffery Cordova, a senior who weighs in at 152 pounds. Cordova, Encinias said, is recovering from football injuries.
Encinias is also glad that this season starts with two meets in Texas. "The Panhandle teams are tough," he said. "It's a good reality check for us."
The wrestlers have one scrimmage and one official meet under their belt. In the first official meet was held Thursday at River Road High School near Amarillo. Encinias said the Rattlers finished ahead of Amarillo River Road and Bushland, and being Amarillo Palo Duro.
"Palo Duro is always very tough," Encinias said.
Tucumcari standout performers included Mario Chavez (3-0), Dillon Wood (3-0), Rudy Vallejos (3-0), Augustin Sandoval (3-0), Austin Welch (2-1) and Joseph Ortega (2-1),
Wrestlers, Encinias said, face one of the sporting world's toughest conditioning and practice routines. Since early November, their daily routines have started with 1.5-mile runs, then on to bleacher climbing and sprints. After that, they do endless series of calisthenic exercises, including pushups, situps, squat thrusts and even toe curls. Only then do they start the grueling work of practicing wrestling moves like pins and escapes and test their skills against each other. To end a typical workout, they do more sprints.
"They work everything from the top of the head to the toes," Encinias said. And there, he said, is more proof of the toughness of the wrestling squad: After all that, they keep coming back.
Tucumcari Rattler Wrestling schedule:
Dec. 22, Rattler Invitational, Tucumcari, 8 a.m.
Jan 11-13, St. Michael's Invitational, Santa Fe, noon
Jan. 19, Pecos Invitational, Pecos, Texas, 9 a.m,
Jan 25-26, Sierra Blanca Invitational, Ruidoso, 3 p.m.
Feb. 1-2, Cardinal Classic, Las Vegas, NM 10 a.m.
Feb. 9, at Los Alamos, 9 a.m.
Feb. 15, District Tourney, Tucumcari, 4 p.m.
Feb. 22-23, State Tourney, Rio Rancho, TBA