Ranked second in the nation, Woodinville wrestler Christensen has big plans

t.cotterill@thenewstribune.comFebruary 21, 2014 

WOODINVILLE — Ryan Christensen’s name isn’t draped across banners or placards inside the Woodinville High School gymnasium.

In fact, he is barely seen anywhere. Locked within a trophy case are some of the wrestling team’s KingCo championship plaques – most collected before Christensen’s time.

It’s hard to blame the school for not showcasing Christensen’s bounty of national and state championship trophies and medals. He is almost too decorated. A separate section — or even cabinet — would be needed just for his haul.

Instead, Christensen’s collection of wrestling memorabilia is either scattered about his bedroom or stored in a duffle bag in the garage.

Christensen eclipsed the school’s record for most wins in a career earlier this season, and currently sports a 117-2 record. He became the second wrestler in Woodinville history to win an individual state title last season, which came only months after winning the Cadet National Freestyle championship in Fargo,

N.D. — the seventh national title of his career.

He is one of nine “Untouchables” wrestlers heading into this weekend’s Mat Classic XXVI, selected by The News Tribune for the 2013-14 season.

“Pound for pound, he is the toughest kid around right now,” said North Central High School coach Luke Leifer, who was one of Christensen’s coaches at nationals. “I don’t see anybody hanging with him.”

That’s partly why he is the consensus second-ranked wrestler in the nation at 182 pounds behind New Jersey prep star Johnny Sebastian.

“I think it’s pretty cool to see that I’m getting recognition on such a huge level,” Christensen said. “I think it’s kind of earned based on what I’ve achieved, but I try not to look at those things too much.”

Christensen relies on conditioning, motor and understanding — all of which he’s refined since first becoming addicted to two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist John Smith’s wrestling videos. Like Smith, Christensen is great at attacking an opponent’s legs.

Christensen is athletic, but it’s not his calling card. Instead, he seeks out weaknesses, breaks opponents down mentally by not giving up big points, and gets stronger as the match wears on.

“You compare him to other kids in the state, and he’s pretty dang athletic, but with him it’s in the whole package,” said his father and first-year Woodinville coach Todd Christensen. “He’s just very sound technically and persistent. He’s just going to keep coming after you, keep grinding.

“He’s not going to pin a guy in 30 seconds often, but he’s willing to win a match 1-0, 2-0 — whatever it takes.”

That’s what the University of Wisconsin saw, too. Christensen signed with the Badgers, currently the 15th-ranked team in the nation, in November.

“He wrestles like a college wrestler in high school already,” Wisconsin assistant coach Trevor Brandvold said.

Brandvold first visited Christensen in June after taking notice when Christensen beat former Mead High School three-time state champion Chandler Rogers (now in Oklahoma) in a national freestyle title match.

Christensen became the first recruit from Washington the Big Ten school has ever signed.

“He was pretty much one of two must-haves in weight classes we were going after, and we couldn’t have filled that need with someone better than Ryan,” Brandvold said.

Christensen said the success drives him, but it doesn’t consume him. He is known by opponents for his relentlessness on the mat, but off it he’s humble and soft-spoken, and focused on his Christian faith.

Considering his twin brother, Paul, might be just as successful in soccer, Christensen has little room to gloat. Paul is a goalkeeper with the Seattle Sounders Academy team and has competed for the U.S. U-17 national team the past two years. He will play at Portland State next year.

“We knew we were going to have a great leader and a great guy to build a program around going forward in Ryan, just because of his personality” Brandvold said. “A part of that is his strong faith and awesome family and how close-knit they are. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they have two such high-level athletes from the same family.

“When you talk to some of these parents and athletes, they think they are the top dog. So it’s a breath of fresh air to have such a humble kid like Ryan.”

Todd Christensen didn’t compete in any sport past high school, aside from intramural soccer at Washington State University. He insists his kids’ abilities were not hereditary.

Both sons were home-schooled from third grade through junior high school, partly because it was easier that way for the family to travel to their sports activities.

Before he entered high school, Christensen was asked if he wanted to follow most of the wrestlers with whom he had trained in the offseason — guys like Michael Soler, Noah Cuzzetto and Cody Vigoren, who now wrestle at perennial powerhouse Lake Stevens High School.

But Woodinville was home, and Christensen wanted to start something special.

“We’ve been fairly tough, but no one had really had state aspirations,” Christensen said. “I wanted to not only have personal success, but I wanted to bring the whole team with me. I wanted to make this popular here.”

Since ninth graders were not allowed to wrestle at Woodinville High School, Christensen made it a goal of winning three Class 4A titles.

With a runner-up finish his sophomore year in a finals match to Rogers — whom Christensen paid back a few months later in North Dakota — he’s altered those goals. Now he hopes to become the first in school history to win multiple state titles.

But his plans are mapped out far beyond the state title: Be a member of the U.S. national team for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

First, with his brother as his trainer, he hopes to make the soccer team in the spring. Then he plans to graduate with an engineering degree from Wisconsin in four years, and later become a graduate assistant.

Afterward he would stay on and help coach as he trains to become an Olympian.

“If all works out, that’s what I’m shooting for,” Christensen said. “There are definitely a lot of things that can go wrong, but I think it’s realistic just based off what I’ve done.”

A gold medal would certainly look good in a trophy case, too.

RYAN CHRISTENSEN (182)

Woodinville (4A), senior, 33-0

Christensen’s national résumé might be even better than his state one. He claimed his first national title at age 10 and has seven total. But he’s no slouch within Washington, posting a 117-2 career record. Those two losses? One came in the 2012 state title match and the other in the finals of the Pac-Coast Championships last year. “You don’t get away once he is on top,” said father and coach Todd Christensen. “He’s not flashy and not overly athletic, but he is going to keep coming after you, stay in good position, be technically sound and not make mistakes.”

NOAH CUZZETTO (132)

Lake Stevens (4A), senior, 30-3

Sure, Cuzzetto might not look so tough. His coach admits it, too. But get him in a tournament, and Cuzzetto gets it done. “A year ago I would have called him chubby,” coach Brent Barnes said. “Some kids look untouchable in the wrestling room, then they go into a tournament and they don’t. Noah is the opposite. He looks OK, then in a tournament he’s completely different.” Cuzzetto won two state titles at Edmonds-Woodway before transferring to Lake Stevens this year. He will wrestle at third-ranked NCAA Division II St. Cloud State in Minnesota next year.

Cruz Del Angel (182)

Kiona-Benton (1A), senior, 36-0

Del Angel hopes to claim his third state title this weekend and continue his 112-match win streak. “If he doesn’t hit you with one thing, he’ll just go at you with a barrage of moves,” his coach, Ben Hill, said. “He doesn’t want to just win, he wants to dominate.” He is so physical, he has put Kiona-Benton’s returning state heavyweight champ, Cody Zyph, on his back in practice. But some of his will to win comes from tragedy. Del Angel’s mother died of breast cancer during his sophomore year. Hill said Del Angel competes to make her proud.

FRED GREEN (126)

Orting (2A), junior, 34-3

Two years, and Green owns two state titles (1A 103-pound title and 2A 113-pound title). A two-time “Untouchables” member, all Green’s losses this year have come while wrestling up a weight, including the 132-pound title match at Matman Classic against fellow “Untouchable” Noah Cuzzetto of Lake Stevens. “Fred excels in the scramble,” Orting coach Jody Coleman said. “If he puts his opponents on their back, good luck. It’s pretty much a done deal.” With a third title this weekend, Green would need one more to make Orting the first school in WIAA history with two four-time state champions (Drew Templeton, 2009-12).

DARREN HARRIS (120)

Yelm (4A), Junior, 31-0

Harris is hungry. After winning the 3A 106-pound title as a freshman, he followed with a runner-up finish in the 4A 113-pound title, losing by pin to Noah Cuzzetto. The loss fueled a mission for Harris – pin everybody. He has won every match by pin this year. “If he was an 8, this year he is a 10,” Tornados coach Gaylord Strand said. “After what he accomplished last year and got stuck in the finals, he never wants that to happen again.” Cuzzetto now wrestles at 132, so Harris will have to settle for being the 120-pound favorite.

COLTON ORRINO (145)

Central Valley (4A), senior, 29-0

Central Valley coach John Owen doesn’t think Orrino is the best wrestler in eastern Washington … he believes Orrino’s the best in the state. Orrino placed second as a freshman and third as a sophomore before rolling to a 132-pound state title last year. Up two weight classes, he’s still favored to go back-to-back. “He’s physical and very strong,” Owen said. “He dominated at the state tournament last year and has been scored on only once this year.” Orrino is 115-11 for his career and is being recruited by Arizona State and Boise State, among others.

BOBBY REECE III (170)

Kingston (2A), senior, 32-1

The four-timers streak rests with Reece, who can become the 11th four-time state champion in state boys history. Mat Classic has produced a four-timer each of the past five years, and Reece is the only hope of that streak continuing after three-time champ Chandler Rogers of Mead moved to Stillwater, Okla. Reece’s coach, Wayne Grizzi, simply says of his standout: “Here comes an arm bar, stop it if you can.” Reece suffered the second loss of his career this season — against 143 victories — and is a two-time Fargo All-American. He will attend Grand Canyon University next year.

IZAEC QUINTANILLA (160)

North Central (3A), junior, 36-2

Quintanilla (pronounced kent-a-nezzia) was a hyper child, so his parents, from Guam, stuck him in wrestling. His energy explains his quickness, which led him to the 152-pound state title last year. He added thickness this year and appears primed to leave Mat Classic with the 160-pound title. “He’s the full package,” his coach, Luke Leifer, said. “He’s lightning quick, and he’s definitely become a lot stronger, a lot bigger this year. He is really good at riding, and that is because he has such a strong grip.” Quintanilla, 110-11 for his career, has won consecutive Tri State Tournament titles.

CODY VIGOREN (195)

Lake Stevens (4A), junior, 32-1

Lake Stevens coach Brent Barnes has a lofty comparison for Vigoren: Mead’s three-time state champion Jordan Rogers. “He’s really that type of kid,” Barnes said of Vigoren, who chases his first state title this weekend. “Really smart, big and athletic. We’ve never really had a big guy like him who is that athletic.” Vigoren already is being recruited by Stanford, George Mason and Oregon State. He won the 195-pound title at the Doc Buchanan Invitational in Clovis, Calif., where he defeated the third- and fourth-ranked wrestlers in California.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com @Cotterill44 t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com

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