With or without the support from his peers and school, Javier Tapia was going to do what he knows best anyway — and that’s winning state championships.
The Pojoaque Valley High School senior joined the group of 18 wrestlers in state history prior to this year — and dating back to 1960 — to call themselves four-time state champions.
In his fifth championship appearance, Tapia (33-1) won his fourth consecutive title by defeating Silver High School’s Nathaniel Lucero in an 8-0 major decision victory Feb. 23 at the Santa Ana Star Center in the 170-pound weight class final at the 2019 State Wrestling Championships.
Admitting it was tough to put in words what he had accomplished in five seasons — besides saying it was “joyful and sad (to be over).” Tapia was proud to be surrounded by his coaches and family, but said he was disappointed in the lack of support from Pojoaque.
“Pojoaque Valley and the athletics, a lot of people don’t make state from that school,” Tapia said. “Normally, when you do, you get a lot of support but clearly you can see I don’t have much support here: just my family and friends, really no one from my school.”
It was only their loss at witnessing history, as the senior crossed into somewhat uncharted territory. The last wrestler to accomplish the feat of earning four individual titles was Cleveland High School’s Paul Mascareñas, capping off his four-peat in 2013. Silver’s Zeke Marquez also earned his fourth title about an hour before Tapia in the 4A 132-pound final.
Father was like son as Pojoaque head coach and Tapia’s dad, Johnny Tapia, didn’t know how to put the night’s events into words either.
“You don’t,” he said laughing. “That’s it. You just don’t put it into words. We knew it would be tough to face this guy, but it was fun.”
Lucero (30-8), provided a challenge, at least for the first two rounds. Javier Tapia led 1-0 in the second round after an escape and originally received a reversal call in the waning seconds of the round to go up 3-0, but the referee overturned the ruling because time had expired.
However, Javier Tapia took control in the third round — beginning with a takedown — and reeled off seven points to pull away from the taller and lankier Lucero.
“I really had to watch my position so he couldn’t get those angles to reach and score,” Javier Tapia said. “It’s a tough match because when you have those opponents that are long on top, they can easily score on you and wrap you up.”
Lucero had one near-takedown attempt, but like anything else the Fighting Colts’ senior offered up, Javier Tapia had an answer.
“Javi is really hard to score on and guys really have to bring it to him,” Johnny Tapia said. “I wasn’t worried at all. Jav gets himself in those positions all the time and if he’s up 1-0, then he’s probably gonna win the match.”
Indeed he did win, and in great fashion to end a career that began at Capital High School, where he captured his first state championship in his freshman season. It wasn’t until Pojoaque offered his father the coaching job and task of starting a wrestling program for the Elks that Javier Tapia made his way north.
He fell just one title short of matching his brother, Jose Tapia, who is one of the eight wrestlers in state history to capture five individual titles, doing so at Capital from 2013 to 2017.
Javier Tapia’s only loss of the season came against Carlsbad High School’s Justin Wood at the Joe Vivian Classic. Fitting enough, Wood was crowned the champion for 5A at 160 pounds.
Sanchez sees semifinal berth
Española Valley High School senior Edgar Sanchez finished off his wrestling career as a Sundevil by placing fourth in the Class 4A 145-pound weight class.
Sanchez cruised to two victories by pin (in 1:15 and 1:55) on day one of the tournament Feb. 22, but met his match on day two against Kaedyn Malcom from Belen High School in the semifinals, who outworked Sanchez for a 13-4 major decision victory.
Malcom opened the match as the aggressor and his defensive tactics frustrated Sanchez, who said he probably took too long to deliver his own shots once he got down on the scoreboard.
“He (Malcom) was just extremely defensive and anything I tried to do he would block it or counter,” Sanchez said. “I probably should have been a lot faster taking more shots. The plan’s always to stick em’, but if you’re down on points, you better go fast and we just wasted too much time trying to reverse those few moves.”
Sanchez competed in his third state tournament and progressed farther in the bracket than the previous two years. Overall, the senior finished the year with a 30-4 record, with half his losses coming in his final three matches at the state tournament.
“Edgar being in the semifinals and placing at state, that’s a feat in itself,” Española head coach Aaron Salinas said. “I never thought he would get that far when he first started (as a ninth-grader), but he pushed himself. Just placing in the top six at state, I’m very happy for him.”
“It hurts to lose, of course,” Sanchez added. “I’m extremely proud of this season. I never thought my record would be anywhere near where it is now. Going from extreme negatives from my first season to now, I know all the hard work paid off and I’m glad I put all I could into it.”
Nicko Pacheco (132 pounds) was the other Sundevil to advance past the first round, but he made it no further after being clipped by Aztec’s Garrett Birzer. Pacheco, a junior, finished the season 29-15.