High School Wrestling: Panthers finding their form with help of young trio

2013-01-19T00:00:00Z High School Wrestling: Panthers finding their form with help of young trioZack Rosenblatt Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Amphitheater wrestling coach Sam Portillo knew it wouldn't be easy replacing a pair of state champions.

But he wasn't concerned about how it would affect this year's team.

"We turned the page," Portillo said Friday at the Flowing Wells Invitational, the largest and oldest wrestling meet in the state.

Freshman Angel Laguna, sophomore Geo Payan and junior Jesus Barreras will try to replace Austin Andrade and Floyd Jones.

Andrade was named the Arizona Daily Star's co-wrestler of the year after going 54-0 with 53 pins his senior year while Jones went 51-3 and also won a state title.

"I miss them as kids, I love them," Portillo said. "But as wrestlers, they did their part. These kids can't be depending on Austin and Floyd because they're not here anymore.

"You've got to make your own name."

On the first day of action at Flowing Wells, Barreras (152 pounds) was the only one to earn a spot in today's semifinals, which start at 10 a.m. Laguna (106) lost in the quarterfinals and Payan (138) lost to top-seeded Raul Moraga of Sunnyside in the second round.

Replacing Andrade and Jones was "weird," Barreras said.

"I knew them since my freshman year and they're good guys, good teammates. It was just awkward with them not being here."

The Panthers understandably experienced a few bumps and bruises early in the season. Injuries and eligibility issues plagued Amphi to the point that Portillo only had six or seven wrestlers - or half of the usual 14 on most rosters.

Since wrestling is more of an individual sport, Portillo said, the early season troubles affected him and the team more overall than each individually.

Now, most of the roster is back intact and the Panthers are ready, and hoping, to make a state championship run after placing third last year.

"The Lord put me through some trials this year," Portillo said. "But he really blessed me with a bunch of really good kids and I love them to death."

Portillo is confident his team can win a sectional title in two weeks and doesn't feel the Flowing Wells Invitational needs to be a point of emphasis for his team right now because what really matters is what happens at state.

However, Amphi's young trio, especially Barreras, wasn't looking past this weekend's meet.

"It's a big deal because we see a lot of potential in the people here so it's a chance for us to play them in this tournament and it's where we want to be," he said.

"It's a tough tournament."

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