Only two schools in state history have produced two four-time state wrestling champions.
Orting could be the first to have three.
But you won’t see Alex Cruz putting that kind of pressure on himself.
He’s signed to the University of Virginia to wrestle next year and he’s a two-time Fargo Nationals All-American. So this final trip to Mat Classic will be about so much more than chasing history.
“I’m just trying to take in all the memories I can right now,” Cruz said. “Just trying to enjoy life before I go to college and get ready for that bigger stage.”
The final step toward the Tacoma Dome was Saturday’s 2A Region 3 championships at Fife High School. Cruz, well, cruised — first with a pin in 1 minute, 51 seconds in the first round, then a major-decision victory (14-1) in the semifinals and by the 2:55 mark of the 138-pound championship, Cruz had a 17-1 lead on Washington’s Josh Camacho for a victory by technical fall.
White River won the team title with 283 points to Orting’s 256.5 points and appears well on its way to its second state wrestling title in school history at Mat Classic next week. But coach Tim Kitchen had to admire Cruz.
“Alex Cruz wrestles like a Division I wrestler right now,” Kitchen said. “His top game is phenomenal. His wrist control and his tilts on top make him better than anyone here.”
But Cruz is used to being one of the nation’s best – he’s been doing this for a long time.
He’s the No. 16-ranked 138-pound wrestler in the country by FloWrestling and his only loss so far this season was against the No. 2-ranked wrestler, Jaden Abas of Rancho Bernardo, California, in the 5 Counties wrestling tournament near Huntington Beach.
But now he’s enjoying it.
His father was one of those parents. He wasn’t afraid to admit it after watching his son win Saturday’s regional title. But it took him stepping back for his son to take steps forward.
“I was that crazy parent — that we are going to train nonstop,” Brandon Cruz said. “At least, until Alex told me he was scared. You have to let them have fun. He was nationally ranked and winning all these big tournaments and not enjoying it. I had to say, ‘Wow, I ruined him having fun. I better step back.’
“After that, Alex has enjoyed it and he just took off. He’s been having a blast the last four years.”
Cruz will enter the Tacoma Dome with a 126-pound title, a 113-pound title and his freshman year he was the 106-pound champion. Part of him enjoying this season more is he said he hasn’t worried about cutting weight. Now he’s wrestling at 138.
He was so little as a freshman,” Brandon Cruz said. “The thought of him going for a fourth title wasn’t in our minds.”
Orting had its first four-time state champion in 2012 when Drew Templeman completed the feat and became the ninth wrestler in state history to join the four-time fraternity. Then Fred Green became the 12th member in 2015. There are currently 15 boys wrestlers in state history who have won four state titles, and three girls wrestlers.
“It would be a great honor to join those athletes and past wrestlers,” Alex Cruz said. “I’ve worked hard toward that goal, and I just want to get my name on there.
“I love the Tacoma Dome. I love hearing the crowd and the roar from the fans. I’ll have the same routine, just go in there with my head up and wrestle one match at a time.”
Before he joins his former teammate, Green, at Virginia.
“Fred says get ready for the grind, get ready to embrace it and love it,” Alex Cruz said. “Eat, sleep, breathe wrestling. That’s going to be my new life.”
One he’s looking forward to enjoying.
And White River is going to enjoy chasing its first team title since 1995 with a crew of young, talented wrestlers. It had nine competing in Saturday’s finals, including Jack Ervien pinning Tyee’s Paul Singh in 1:44 for the 170-pound title, and Ryan Redford earning an 18-7 major-decision victory over Foss’ Aundre Seabrook.
“It’s been on the radar all year,” Kitchen said. “We got a lot of numbers on the front side who can score a lot of points. The writing on the wall is if we’re healthy and we carry this through to next weekend, we’re going to win it.”
White River’s Nate Moore, the No. 1-ranked 152-pound wrestler in the state by Washington Wrestling Report took a forfeit victory over his teammate, freshman Klein Carter, for the regional title. He injured his knee against Carter in last week’s 2A SPSL Mountain championships.
But Kitchen says Moore is fine going into state next week. He won his first-round regional match by pin in 2:50 and then by technical fall, 15-0 in 5:20, over Eatonville’s Gage Olsen in the semifinals.
“It wasn’t worth it to risk it more than anything,” Kitchen said. “Nothing major.”
TAHOMA SENDS 13 TO MAT CLASSIC
It takes a lot to satisfy Chris Feist.
But what Tahoma did at the Class 4A Region II boys wrestling championships in their own gymnasium greatly pleased their longtime coach.
With 298.5 points, the defending 4A champions easily won the regional title Saturday over Kentwood (164) and Skyline (99) in a matchup of 4A NPSL and 4A KingCo programs.
Tahoma will send 13 wrestlers to next weekend’s Mat Classic XXX at the Tacoma Dome, including six regional winners — Austin Michalski (120 pounds), Steele Starren (126), Cameron Hanson (132), Reid Carlton (138), Michael Gaspar (182) and Kione Gill (220).
“A good day,” a beaming Feist said. “We got our job done today.”
A month ago, Feist wasn’t so sure how his team would come together for the final stretch of competition.
Tahoma lost seven key seniors from last year’s squad, so what worked in the past, Feist said, was hit or miss with this new group.
So the Bears held a heart-to-heart team meeting in early January.
“The key has been getting the upperclassmen to shift their attitude and effort,” Feist said.
One upperclassmen who is set to carry the torch next week is Gill (38-0), the team’s lone returning state champion (185) as a senior.
It is plainly obvious Gill is not functioning at full health, but he made quick work of Kennedy Catholic’s Jahvius Leui, pinning him in 1 minute, 47 seconds in the 220 finals.
“I am nowhere near 100 percent, but I am ready to go,” Gill said. “At this time of year, it is all about heart, to be honest with you.”
BETHEL TAKES TITLE
Bethel edged Yelm and defending state-champion Bonney Lake for the 3A regional championship with 194.5 points, with Yelm finishing second with 186.5 points and Bonney Lake in third with 175.5 at Gig Harbor.
The first four matches of the finals were all Bonney Lake, though, as Yusief Lillie (106), Brenden Chaowanipibool (113), Brandon Kaylor (120) and Evan Tracy (126) each captured a regional championship. Sam Peterson won the 220-pound title, giving Bonney Lake five total individual titles, the most by any team Saturday night.
Lincoln’s JJ Dixon, the defending state 182-pound champion, captured the 195-pound regional title with a 16-0 technical fall victory over Bonney Lake’s Jazz Sherrod. Dixon dominated, giving up just one point over the course of the tournament.
Lakes’ Zander Coakley (132) and Hector Jasso (285) each captured championships for the Lancers.
YELM GIRLS EDGE FEDERAL WAY
Defending state girls wrestling champion Yelm has passed every single test this season.
And that includes its biggest one Saturday — win the Region II team title.
In what many expect to be the Mat Classic team showdown, the Tornados edged Federal Way, 140-134, for the regional crown at Decatur High School.
Yelm will send six wrestlers to next weekend’s Mat Classic XXX at the Tacoma Dome, including two regional winners — Phoenix Dubose at 115 pounds (4-0 winner over Lincoln’s Jamayia Blackston) and Carly Smith at 130 (won by injury forfeit over Decatur’s Paige Dasher).
“It was a very stressful weekend,” Yelm coach Amy Earley said. “Just the added pressure of being the reigning state champion, everyone is looking at you, ‘Are you going to be able to defend it?’ It has been kind of crazy.”
Federal Way won the 235-pound title with Mariah Stewart defeating Jefferson's Goddess Ma'alona-Faletogo by forfeit.
Staff writer Todd Milles contributed to this report
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
2A REGION 3 CHAMPIONSHIPS
Team scores: 1. White River 283, 2. Orting 256.5, 3. Highline 112, 4. Steilacoom 86, 5. Franklin Pierce 62, 6. Washington 57, 7. Renton 54.5, 8. Fife 50, 9. Eatonville 42, 10. Foss 41, 11. Lindbergh 39, 12. River Ridge 28, 13. Evergreen 22.5, 14. Tyee 18, 15. Clover Park 15
106: John Pham (Renton) dec. Demani Thomas (River Ridge) 4-2
113: Conor Goucher (Orting) p. Nate Belcourt (White River) 4:00
120: Kevin Plenh-Romero (Highline) major dec. Chrys Cenkush (Orting) 9-1
126: Jacob Flores (Orting) dec. Osman Castaneda (Highline) 9-4
132: Gabe Hawthorne (White River) major dec. Zach Rowe (Steilacoom) 12-4
138: Alex Cruz (Orting) tech fall Josh Camacho (Washington) 17-1 (2:55)
145: Weston Lyver (White River) p. Alex Brady (Steilacoom) 4:59
152: Nate Moore (White River) forfeit Klein Carter (White River)
160: Max Wheeler (White River) major dec. Braxton Seich (Washington) 11-0
170: Jack Ervien (White River) p. Paul Singh (Tyee) 1:44
182: Mason Sabin (White River) forfeit Jordan LaPointe (Franklin Pierce)
195: Ryan Redford (White River) major decision Aundre Seabrook (Foss) 18-7
220: Evan Barger (Orting) p. Mike Richardson (Renton) 0:39
285: AJ Sellem (Lindbergh) major dec. Lupeti Sarte (Fife) 10-1