Heavy Lifting: Hillcrest Senior Grapples With History

Fuentes hopes to earn a state title while spurring growth for the sport

When Americo Fuentes started wrestling as a freshman at Hillcrest, he lost more matches than he won. Three years later, he’s aiming for his second straight appearance at the Class 5A state tournament.

During his freshman year, Hillcrest only had about six wrestlers in the program and regularly recruited newcomers from the hallways to fill open spots. Three years later, the Panthers have about 60 athletes in the wrestling program, with depth in almost every weight class.

The parallel success for Fuentes and Hillcrest is no coincidence. The heavyweight has embraced the team aspect of the sport from the beginning. So, when he finished fourth at state a year ago — the best result in school history — it was an emotional achievement for multiple reasons.

“It meant a lot to me,” Fuentes said. “I just want everybody to get into the sport. I want it to be better after I leave. I want it to grow.”

 I had to get a lot more responsible as a person.

Americo Fuentes

Mostly wrestling against taller guys with more muscular frames, the 5-foot-8, 270-pound Fuentes knows how to wear them out.

“He’s very deceiving when you look at him,” said Hillcrest coach Duncan Iannucci. “He works so hard in the offseason, and you can see it when he wrestles. He’s a strong kid for his size.”

He became interested in the sport because of his father, who wrestled in high school and attends all his matches. After struggling at first, he qualified for regionals as a sophomore and then made it to state as a junior.

Fuentes also is the starting center for a football squad that has reached the playoffs in each of the past two years. Toward the end of football season, Fuentes typically starts ramping up his training for wrestling by improving his diet and fitness regimen. Football is a high priority, but wrestling requires a different skill set.

“Being explosive off the mat translates to blocking,” he said. “It’s just getting your mind ready to compete. When I first started wrestling, I had to get a lot more responsible as a person.”

As he powers toward the state tournament in February, Fuentes hopes to bring more attention to wrestling at Hillcrest, whether that means upgraded equipment or singlets for his younger teammates or perhaps laying a foundation for future champions.

“He comes in every day and leads drills. He’s always setting an example in practice and during matches,” Iannucci said. “That winning attitude is contagious to the rest of the team. He has opened up the door for other kids.”

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