As the last Lion standing, Mahlik Walker intends to make the most of his final opportunity at the state wrestling championships.
Saving his best for last, the 138-pound Auburn Mountainview senior earned his third trip to the Mat Classic after withstanding a stern test from Enumclaw’s Aidan Carroll to grab a 7-4 decision in the WIAA Region 3 tournament final at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley on Saturday.
At 26-4, Walker is one of the contenders to reach the top of the podium when the state 4A bouts begin at 10 a.m. Friday at the Tacoma Dome. Finals for Mat Classic XXXII are this Saturday. Walker’s first-round opponent is Graham-Kapowsin senior Joseph Smurphat.
Walker missed a state berth last year after competing at the dome as a 126-pound sophomore (1-2) and 120-pound freshman (0-2).
“This is my last year so I have to place in the top three, for sure,” said Walker, the only one of six Auburn Mountainview wrestlers who had survived the regional gauntlet. “There’s always going to be hard opponents, but I think I can push through and take the win.
“There’s always tough wrestlers, no matter what match I have,” he said, “but all I have to do is make it to the podium. That’s all I have to do.”
Walker stormed into the finals after dominating Kentridge’s Sullivan Steele in the quarterfinals and Kentwood’s Carson Yancey – both by major decision.
In the final, Carroll gave Walker fits but couldn’t bring him down.
“Aidan gave me a tough match today,” Walker said. “He’s always good competition, but I always find a way to pull through.”
Walker is peaking at the right hour.
“He’s on a mission,” Lions coach Jay McGuffin said. “He’s overcome a lot of adversity. He’s bent but he hasn’t broken. He’s doing his best wrestling now. He’s very confident.”
Ravens qualify six to state
Auburn Riverside pushed six of its nine wrestlers to state, including a pair of regional champions in 160-pound junior Justin Pritchard (23-5) and 182-pound senior Ethan Pedro (23-6).
The Ravens received runner-up finishes from senior Kailen Fontes (14-5) at 132 pounds and junior Christian Pedro (30-6) at 190. Sophomore Cole Cross (23-9, 106 pounds) and senior Jaden Cassel (30-7, 130) picked up thirds.
“I thought we did pretty good … nothing unexpected,” said Eric Jones, the Ravens’ first-year head coach. An assistant coach with the Ravens for seven years, Jones got the call to succeed his older brother, Kyle, who had stepped down to become dean of students at the school after last season.
“I was hoping for at least six, and we got six,” Jones said. “We’re feeling pretty good about that. We feel pretty good about getting medals (this) week.”
At 182, Pedro is competing at full throttle – reflected in his quick work of Decatur’s Brad Clay in the final. Pedro spotted an opening and squeezed Clay with a pin with 25 seconds left in the first period.
“I’m a lot faster and technical at 182 than I was at 195,” said Pedro, who finished fifth at state at the heavier weight last year. “I definitely want to be in the top five and, if I can, I want to be the state champion. It’s going to be a battle either way … but we’re ready.”
Pritchard has been a pleasant surprise for Jones this season. He emerged in the past few weeks, gaining confidence in himself and with his coaches.
“He’s had injuries the last two years. He’s never wrestled at a league tournament, and now he’s league and regional champ,” Jones said. “I’m very happy for him, with where he’s at, and now we get see how he does at the dome.”
Trojan foursome moves on
Auburn salvaged a difficult day by advancing four wrestlers to Mat Classic. The Trojans, a young squad built with tomorrow in mind, sent 11 wrestlers to the Tahoma mats.
Junior Mason Rowland (34-13, 182 pounds) and senior Uriel Parra (31-9, 220) finished third to qualify for state. Joining them will be 126-pound senior Gabe Sena (29-12) and 170-pound senior Ronnie Labranche Mairs (29-14) who both finished fourth.
Senior Aron Faasse (17-20, 113 pounds) and junior Jack McCabe (25-15, 132) placed fifth to serve as state alternates.
“I’m proud of the guys who made it through. They fought hard,” said Auburn coach Matt Hoover. “I’m heart-broken for the ones who didn’t.
“This whole team has over-performed all year when people wrote them off,” Hoover said. “To see it come to an end for some of these guys, it’s hard to watch. … Everybody faces adversity this time of the year, but they still went out there.”
Rowland, who came back after losing to Pedro in the semifinals, won by an 8-7 decision over Kentwood’s Dominic Kremer to earn the bronze. Parra pinned Decatur’s Zechariah Siva in 1:55 to finish third.
Tahoma ran away with the team title. Auburn Riverside finished fifth, Auburn was sixth and Auburn Mountainview wound up 10th in the final standings. … Auburn Riverside, Auburn and Enumclaw shared the North Puget Sound League Olympic regular-season dual title with 6-1 records. … Each weight class will open with 16-person brackets at the Tacoma Dome. … Championship finals begin at 5 p.m. Saturday.