TACOMA — Hugh Chang lifted his stepson and protégé, Fabian Wickham, 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 of the semifinals, 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.”
Alberto Montes DeOca (126 pounds) 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.”
Wenatchee’s day isn’t done — 220-pound senior Kyle Lesmeister will meet Puyallup junior Matt Voss in the title match, set for 9 p.m.
The Quincy Jacks continue to hang on to second place in the 1A team standings with 97.5 points, barely ahead of third-place Castle Rock (95). Granger leads with 140.
Quincy has two wrestlers in the finals — Christian Alejandrez (106) and Gabe Martinez (113).
Chelan also has two wrestlers in the finals — Erick Garcia (132) and Asa Schwartz (220) — and sits in fifth place with 79 points.
Tyrus Kemp, Ephrata’s 195-pound junior, is in the finals.