Auburn’s storied high school wrestling program tried something new on a different stage last Wednesday.
The Trojans brought back the past to watch the present in a midseason match at the Auburn Performing Arts Center, the school’s first sporting event played out at the community-embraced venue that’s typically reserved for concerts and theater.
Auburn welcomed the spotlight of the arena atmosphere and took care of business, mauling visiting Todd Beamer of Federal Way 51-22 in a North Puget Sound League Olympic Division dual match on a night the Trojans celebrated their senior wrestlers and past champion individuals and coaches.
“It’s different, and it’s important to show off the fact that wrestling can be done anywhere, and any kid can do it,” said Auburn’s second-year head coach Matt Hoover. “We hope it gets kids fired up.
“If they let me, I will (bring it back),” Hoover said of the PAC cameo. “I think we can make this bigger and better. We have to figure out how to recruit kids to come wrestle for us. Auburn has such a great history of wrestling, and the fact that let us do something like this shows they are serious about rebuilding it.”
Hoover and his staff are trying new things to stir more interest and excitement. Hoover is familiar with the bright lights and big stage. Born and raised in small-town Iowa, Hoover burned with the passion to be the best, becoming a state high school champion and All-American, who went on to capture a national freestyle championship and compete internationally.
Recruited to the University of Iowa, Hoover was part of four NCAA Division I national championship Hawkeye teams and a 2016 inductee to the Dan Gable National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Given an already good program at Auburn, Hoover vows to bolster it.
Against Todd Beamer, Auburn’s young lineup stood tall, winning significant bouts to carry some momentum into this week’s division-deciding quad duals at Auburn Riverside High School. First bouts begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The host Ravens – a stout group under coach Kyle Jones – will look to three-peat as regular-season dual champions as four of the division’s top schools square off. Auburn Riverside (3-0 division) enters the meet with the lead on pursuing Enumclaw, Auburn and Auburn Mountainview.
Hoover is looking forward to the challenge.
“We’re not going to win the state title, we may not even win the league, but the kids are starting to understand what it takes to be competitive,” he said. “These guys are coming along at the right time of the year.
“We want to finish strong, but we also want to build for next year, and that means they have to step up and they’re doing it,” Hoover added. “The kids are starting to bond as a team. When that starts to happen, exiting things come along.”
Against the Titans, 113-pound sophomore Dalton Whitehall-Gilkes, a state alternate last season, began the spree by pinning Brandon Le at 1:51 of the first period. Jack McCabe, another sophomore at 120, followed with a 9-3 decision against Tiler Jennings.
Gabe Sena, a 132-pounder, who qualified for state last season, pinned Julian Clemans in the second round.
Auburn’s Aric Hayes dominated James Dueck 13-5, a major decision at 145 pounds. Freshman Eddie Carter handled Adrian Ulugaono 5-0 at 152, and Mason Rowland, a 160-pound sophomore, took a 3-0 lead before turning and pinning Foday Ware at the 3:12 mark.
“He really turned it on against a tough kid,” Hoover said of Rowland’s rousing win. “He went out there against a real good kid, took him down and stayed after it.”
Rowland added: “It was a tough match. … I felt pretty confident. I just know that if I give it my all, there’s not a lot of people who can beat me.”
The Trojans, buoyed by three Titan forfeitures, capped off the dual with pins from Ronnie Mairs at 170 and Uriel Parra at 220.
Speaking for his team, Sena appreciated the turnout and the performance on a special night.
“We’re looking strong coming out of this dual,” he said. “The guys are wrestling great and the intensity has picked up a lot.
“I loved it. I loved the crowd, seeing everybody and being on stage.”