RIO RANCHO – Oh so close.
A couple of points here or there and Soccoro’s boys wrestling program could have been carrying home the school’s first blue state championship trophy in the sport.
Still, buoyed by individual championships from seniors Joel “Trey” Partridge III at 132 pounds and Orion Rottman at 182 pounds, the Warriors are adding the Class 3A red runners-up trophy with 180 points, nine behind West Las Vegas.
“We went out and gave it our best for the most part,” said coach Joel Partridge Jr., who was tasked with building the program five years ago after it had been dormant for several decades.
The Warriors actually held a 24-point lead going into the final round, which included the championship and third-place matches.
In addition to the younger Partridge and Rottman, four other Socorro wrestlers reached the finals: junior Brian Armijo at 145, senior Sean McNeil at 152, junior Warren Kurtnaker at 170 and junior Caden Moreland at 195. McNeil and Moreland each lost very tight matches that were decided in the closing seconds. Junior David Gutierrez took third at 220 and three other Warriors wrestlers finished fourth.
“It’s not the outcome we were hoping for, but we knew going in, we knew West Las Vegas, Robertson and Cobre are always tough,” coach Partridge said. “You always hope you’re going to win. You have to find a way to be better than them. We outpaced Robertson and Cobre, but we couldn’t hold off West down the stretch.”
Still, the strides the program has made over the course of one career – Trey Partridge has been with the program since its inception – is remarkable.
“We’ve only had the program for five years and I’m very proud of my boys for making it so far,” he said Friday, his face awash in smiles as he accepted back slaps, hugs and congratulations from numerous well-wishers at the Rio Rancho Event Center.
With the championship coming the day after the mask mandate was lifted, Partridge said it was wonderful to just hit the mat.
“No masks, just plain old wrestling,” he said. “I loved it. I was trying to get my team some points, trying not to get pinned. That’s all I was trying to do out there, trying to get my pin.”
Partridge pinned Robertson’s Isaac Probst at the 5:01 mark, then charged over to the stands and leapt in.
“It’s nerve wracking,” he said of meeting a new opponent, especially in the finals. “Because you don’t know what arsenal they have. You don’t know what they’re going to do. It’s always a surprise. That’s why I love wrestling.”
But Partridge was able to succeed following a simple mantra.
“Never give up,” he said. “Stay true to yourself. Stay real to yourself.”
Rottman wasted no time in eliminating his final opponent, pinning Francisco Garcia of Tierra Encantada 50 seconds into the finale.
“I thought about going in, making some moves, making a show,” he said. “But I just wanted to end it.”
When the pin was all but assured, Rottman began celebrating even before officials called it, flashing two fingers to indicate his second state title.
“Going into that match, ending my whole career on a win, I’m a senior so winning that match meant so much to me” he said. “I won it my freshman year, I took second the last two years so winning it just kind of closed the book to me.”
The team will definitely miss both champions, as well as the other seniors who will be moving on, coach Partridge said.
“It was bittersweet. They won the match, as we expected them to, but to see them go, it’s bittersweet,” he said. “They’re team leaders. Orion, he’s a two-time state champion and a four-time state finalist so having that experience on the team is very valuable. My son’s a five-time finalist and four-time state champ. And they just kind of showed up and got to work every day.”
While the team loses those seniors, coach Partridge said he is optimistic about the future, even as the 3A teams will be combined with larger 4A schools next season.
“It was quite an experience,” he said. “I’m excited for what’s coming in the future. We would have liked to have a different outcome, but hindsight is always 20-20. I’m going to find a way to push our kids. Second place by nine points burns pretty good. We got a whole lot of motivation because it stings. We’ll keep on grinding.”