TACOMA — A misstep drove Asa Schwartz all season long and repentance propelled him onto the first-place podium Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
Schwartz (220 pounds) clinched his first state title as a junior and helped Chelan to a fifth place team finish in a 6-4 overtime win by scoring a takedown.
In some ways, it was the same shot that came up short and doomed the Chelan grappler to his only setback of the season, an overtime loss against Warden’s Adam Hansen’s during a November tournament in Omak. Everything was in place and Schwartz made his move, but Hansen, a senior, outfoxed Schwartz and won the match.
“It haunted me all the time, not being able to finish my shot,” he said.
But this time, as Schwartz stared down the same veteran who handed him his only loss of the season, the multi-sport standout’s attack was cleaner, more polished and executed with unwavering confidence. This time, the shot worked.
Schwartz, who finished third at state as a sophomore, spent the entire season refining his technique, always thinking about what could have been, but ultimately wasn’t, in Omak. Finally, he got a chance to even the score, and on the biggest stage.
“I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I couldn’t have gotten that payback,” he said.
Schwartz, who was one of two Goats to take home a state title, isn’t done though. He’s determined to match his brother, Cole Schwartz — a two-time state champion and a 2012 Chelan graduate — with whom he is fiercely competitive with.
For now though, Asa Schwartz can relish a first-place finish and reap the benefits of his revenge.
“It’s the best feeling,” he said.
Erick Garcia (132) wouldn’t settle for a marginal lead or win by decision, he wanted a pin.
The senior wasted no time and scored a takedown less than 10 seconds into the championship match against Stevenson’s Tyler Miler, continued to control every facet of the competition and in time recorded a technical pin to give the Goats valuable team points and a state champ. Invigorated and far from exhausted, he hurtled his body backward in a back flip, landing on all fours, ready for another match.
Garcia’s unwavering self-confidence on the matt was well deserved. He made it to the Tacoma Dome as a freshman and returned as a junior only to finish second at the 126-pound weight class to a four-time state champion.
Last season’s setback at the Matt Classic stung, but it also showed him he’s capable of mixing it up with the best the state has to offer. That lesson helped carry him through the regular season and played a big role in lifting his spirits in the last match of his career.
“This year, I wasn’t settling for anything less,” he said.
Gabe Martinez (113 pounds) rode the final seconds of the 2012-13 season in complete control over Granger’s Victor Almaguer.
The Quincy grappler exploded in the second period, scoring a reversal and a takedown to secure a 4-1 win, a state championship and a second-place finish for the Jacks (105.5 team points)
Martinez, who spent the majority of the match chasing his opponent, was set on wrestling his last six minutes of the mat mistake-free and he came pretty close to doing just that.
The senior was one of six Quincy state semifinalists and the second member of his squad to secure a title, but keeping composed in the hours leading up to the finale were a tough challenge in itself.
“It’s hard to keep your confidence, especially with the long wait at the end,” said Martinez, who has wrestled most of his life and will compete at the collegiate level at the University of Wyoming next season. “You just keep thinking, ‘can I do this?’”
Martinez’s teammates helped keep him retain his confidence and he joined Christian Alejandrez (106) as the team’s two state champions.
“It feels like my mission’s accomplished,” Alejandrez said just minutes before Martinez’s match started. “This has been my goal since my freshman year.”
Like Martinez, the senior dominated his man and performed big in the second period, racking up five points to carry him to a 7-1 victory over Highland’s David Peterson.
Alejandrez’s name will join the wall of past state title winners, something he’s dreamed of for years.
The veteran lightweight certainly put in the time. He wrestled year-round and traveled to a number of international tournaments — including a massive national tournament in Fargo, N.D.— in an ongoing effort toward ascension, which ultimately played a big hand in his final season as a Jack.
“Every tournament feels like a piece of cake after that,” he said.
Collectively, six Quincy wrestlers medaled and five reached the semifinals. Although only two made the championship, the three grapplers who lost in the semifinals went on to win their next match.
For most of the season, Kyle Lesmeister (220) looked untouchable anytime he stepped onto the mat. He brought that same ferocity to the Matt Classic and made it all the way to the finals, but finally met his match and lost a 5-2 decision to Puyallup’s Matt Voss.
A second-place finish is nothing to sneeze at, but the senior grappler, who lost in the state semifinals as a junior, had bigger plans in mind.
“I am kind of upset, because second isn’t what I was shooting for,” he said. “So I am upset.”
Coach Ed Valdez, who praised Lesmeister’s senior campaign, said that in time, Lesmeister would see his run to the finals as a positive.
“The experience that came with it to this point will be something that will be important,” the Panther coach said.
But Valdez was quick to admit that he will miss Lesmeister’s presence in the Wenatchee wrestling room come next winter.
“The thing about Kyle, is he’s a leader,” Valdez said. All the kids love him because he treats everyone like he’s their best friend. … He doesn’t leave anyone out. He’s all-inclusive. He’s a fantastic kid to have around. He’s going to be missed.”
Alberto Montes DeOca (126 pounds), Wenatchee’s other state placer, closed out his wrestling career with a 10-5 win over Spanaway Lake’s Brian Short and a seventh-place finish.
Montes DeOca’s stint at the Tacoma Dome was a series of peaks and valleys, but ending the trip with a win is definitely a lot easier than going home with the sour taste of defeat.
“That clears a lot of what-ifs that might have happened,” coach Ed Valdez said.
The senior wasn’t fazed after being knocked out of third-place contention earlier in the day. He washed away the pain and prepared for what would be the final match of his career. It took him four years of backbreaking work, but Montes DeOca will go home a winner.
“Just to be one of those few who stuck with it and get here,” he said. “It feels great.”
Hugh Chang lifted his stepson and protégé off the dirty concrete floor of the Tacoma Dome and carried the brawler for a brief period after the last match.
Three third-place finishes in three years is nothing to sneeze at, and Fabian Wickham (106) was collected, but appreciative of everything that’s come to him during his long tenure as the best lightweight grappler Eastmont had to offer.
His 4-2 win over Lake Stevens’ AJ Crew was a good ending to an immaculate career.
“My last high school tournament, obviously I wanted first,” he reflected. “But I’m proud.”
Chang helped mold Wickham, taking him to national tournaments as early as age nine and spending countless hours polishing his technique on the carpet of their living room floor, and as a result, Wickham was the better wrestler just about every time he stepped onto the mat.
But for one reason or another, the senior fell into hard luck, which was just enough to derail a state title run.
Coach Ken Hoyt still believes Wickham is the best 106-pound man in the state, but one off day, or even the slightest misstep, can be devastating and the stars never aligned for Wickham. At least not entirely.
“He just didn’t have the momentum he needed,” Hoyt said.
Wickham wanted to go out on top, but he came pretty close.
He led Lake Stevens’ Michael Soler 4-3 in the third period, but gave up a takedown with 1:39 in the third period and went on to lose the match 8-4.
But at the end of the day, he knows he will be able to look back on his last trip to Tacoma and be happy.
“I’m going to look back and remember my last match and remember it as a win,” he said. “That’s all that counts really.”
Wickham was accompanied Saturday by seniors Darin Hardgrove (170) and Kyle Hoffman (195), who finished third and sixth, respectively.
Both lost their opening-round matches Friday, but regrouped and tore through the consolation bracket.
Hardgrove, who won five straight matches, including a 3-1 match over Lakeside’s Lake Stevens’ Cody Vigoren to lock up third place, looked almost unstoppable Saturday.
“Every single match he seemed to pick up momentum,” said Hoyt, adding that Hardgrove was the best pure athlete on the Wildcat squad. “And he got happier about how he was wrestling.”
His charge through the consolation bracket peaked during the last match, where he scored a takedown at the edge of the inbounds circle with less than five seconds left in the final period to seal the victory.
“It was definitely a battle,” he said, completely exhausted after the marathon of matches. “It wasn’t ideal losing my first match, but I just had to battle.”
Things didn’t end quite as well for Hoffman, who lost his final match 11-5 to Kent Meridan’s Thomas Kemp. But his effort was still enough to earn a medal.
Hoffman faced a wide variety of grapplers with abilities and physical make-ups across the spectrum and finished the tournament 3-2 overall.
“That’s the nature of wrestling, especially at his weight class,” Hoyt said.
In all, Eastmont finished the two-day tournament with three placers, all seniors.
“This was a good day,” Hoyt said. “Two thirds and a sixth. We did our job.”
Tyrus Kemp (195) narrowly beat the clock, and his opponent to escape with a 4-3 decision and a state championship over Archbishop Murphy’s Foster Wade.
The two resumed action tied 3-3 with eight seconds left in the third period, and Kemp —who started the final eight seconds in the bottom position — scored an escape just before the final buzzer.
“It was the slowest eight seconds of my life,” he said.
Janet Carrillo (170) wrapped up the season with a second-place finish and the team’s only representative in the finals after a 16-1 technical fall against White River’s Samantha Mitchell.
Carrillo recorded a pin in the semifinals the match before.