There’s so many similarities between Brandon Kaylor and Alex Cruz.
Both are aiming for their fourth state title and both will continue their wrestling careers at NCAA Division 1 schools.
They wrestle in different weight classes and go to different schools — Kaylor is a senior at defending 3A state champion Bonney Lake and Cruz is down the road at 2A Orting — but they’ve trained together, often utilizing a makeshift wrestling mat in Kaylor’s garage along with some of the other best wrestlers in the state for most of their lives.
It’s in there they’ve helped put Washington wrestling on the national map, even if that meant taking more than just some minor bumps and bruises along the way.
“I remember one time, Alex and I were wrestling in the garage and it was getting pretty physical,” Kaylor said. “He was just beating me up and I got really mad so I double-legged him to the garage (door) wall and his back went right into the spike and he started crying.
“Then I started crying cause I was losing and I’d hurt him, so I felt bad.”
Kaylor and Cruz were 12 years old at the time. They had already been facing each other for five years through club competitions.
“Wrestling is a little bit different than most sports,” Kaylor said. “It’s not like going to batting cages for baseball, or where I can go shoot free throws for basketball, or something like that. It requires a partner for wrestling if you really want to get better. You can’t do it alone.”
By the time they were 8, Kaylor and Cruz had already started to see they could push each other to their national-caliber heights.
Kaylor is signed to wrestle at Oregon State next year and is ranked No. 20 in the nation in the 120-pound class by FloWrestling. Cruz is signed to wrestle at the University of Virginia and is ranked No. 17 in the 132-pound class. They are both ranked No. 1 in the state in their respective weight classes by Washington Wrestling Report.
“We wrestled a lot growing up. Almost every tournament we’d see each other somewhere in the bracket,” Cruz said. “We just become really good partners for each other and our parents, our dads, started a team.”
That team was Team Aggression. Geoff Kaylor started it with Brandon Cruz in order to “put Washington on the map.”
“We’ve accomplished that,” Geoff said. “We formed Team Aggression as a national traveling team to bring a lot of talented kids from the state of Washington who loved wrestling and wanted to take it to another level.”
Brandon Kaylor is certainly at another level. He represented Team USA in the Junior Pan American Championships in Lima, Peru, in June and won the gold medal in the freestyle and Greco-Roman events at 110 pounds.
He is also a national champion in the 113-pound weight class, a title he earned in July at the Junior Greco-Roman Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota. Add to that three state titles and a 140-6 high school record and Kaylor has built quite a legacy.
And then there’s Alex Cruz.
Also a three-time state champion, Cruz became the first wrestler from Orting to reach the finals of the national tournament in Fargo this past summer.
They are the only two boys wrestlers in the state this year who could become four-time state champions, something only 15 wrestlers have accomplished, including North Central’s Clai Quintanilla, who would also join Kaylor and Cruz in those garage practices.
Since childhood, Cruz has been a tough wrestling partner for Kaylor. Not only is Cruz bigger, wrestling at 138 pounds, but he’s lightning quick.
“Every week I’d lose to Alex,” Kaylor said. “It really gives you a humbling but competitive mindset knowing that I might give it my all but still lose.”
Kaylor and Cruz said when they would wrestle in practice they wouldn’t keep score but their dads would.
“Sometimes they wouldn’t let me leave until I’d gotten a takedown (against Cruz),” Kaylor said. “It could take a long time because Alex wouldn’t just let me get it. Our dads could tell.”
So who would win now?
“A tie,” Kaylor said.
Cruz just smiled, but eventually agreed.
“I’m bigger but he’s more technical,” Cruz said
Their brother-like bond and rivalry has helped propel them to special heights and has strengthened the wrestling culture at their schools.
Dan Pitsch, Kaylor’s wrestling coach at Bonney Lake and a former Oregon State wrestler, said Kaylor makes himself available to help younger wrestlers including his own brother, Austin, who is a freshman.
“They want to get to his level. They want to be successful and they want to have everything that Brandon’s already got,” Pitsch said. “They see where Brandon’s been, they see what he’s done and they know it’s attainable. I think it just motivates the rest of the kids on the team to try to get to that point, which is awesome.”
Pitsch points to how special it is that Brandon has a healthy relationship with his dad. In this case its played an integral role in Brandon’s success and that of other wrestlers throughout the region through Team Aggression.
“I’ve told Brandon several times that he’s lucky that him and his dad can have that kind of relationship,” Pitsch said. “They can have the father-son relationship and the coach-wrestler relationship. That’s pretty unique I think. I don’t think a lot of dads and sons can have both. It can be tough.”
When Brandon and Alex were kids they looked up to other great Washington wrestlers such as Chandler Rogers, Ryan Christensen and Izaec Quintanilla.
“Now we’re those kids,” Brandon said.
But first, they each have one more state title in their sights.
“My thought process is just going in and wrestling, just entertaining the crowd this time, I feel like it’s a lot of pressure now that it’s the fourth one,” Cruz said. “So I feel a little nervous with this one. But everyone says just go out there and wrestle.”
“I always tell myself there’s always going to be someone better than you out there,” Kaylor said. “So you really got to stay hungry. It’s a lot of work to stay on top. You have a target on your back and all these kids want to wrestle the best, they want to wrestle you to be the best.”