Warrior wrestlers continue to assert district dominance
Many have tried, but few have succeeded at knocking the Aloha Warrior wrestling program from the top tier of the Metro League.
It's even tougher trying to come into the Warriors' home gym — where Aloha brings enlightened fans out by the flock and creates a boisterous amphitheater to match the active intensity under the center spotlight — and get a win.
Aloha is conceivably Metro's top-line team, the one that is regularly in the district championship conversation every winter, sending almost two handfuls of grapplers to the state tournament. Since head coach Stuart Kearsley built the Warriors into prominence, Aloha has regularly rebuffed seemingly every credible candidate that has tried to topple them. Trailing Westview 23-13 going into the 152-pound bout between Aloha's Juan Lopez and Westview's Ryan Timmons, the Warriors won six of the dual meet's final seven matches to take their fifth win of the year, 40-29, over Westview at Aloha High School on Feb. 8.
Westview — armed with a state champion in sophomore sensation Joey Coste and a state runner-up in Nick Capetillo — has long been pegged as Aloha's biggest threat to the throne and could be in the not-so-near future. But for this season, the Warriors are still the Beaverton-area's best.
"Carrying the Aloha name, you kind of carry an attitude with you that gives you the confidence you need for your match," Aloha senior 170-pounder Chad Papenfuhs said. "You don't want to let down the name, you don't want to let down the team. My brother came through this program, as have all of my friends. It makes so you wrestle for those guys and wrestle up to their standard. You're not wrestling to get your name out there, you're wrestling to keep the Aloha name alive, which is a better motivator. It makes you want to win more and helps you in your matches."
Aloha is every team's archenemy, the big dog in the district that every up-and-comer tries to down. The Wildcats were no different, but didn't capitalize on the chance to clinch second in Metro.
"We were definitely circled on Westview's calendar," Lopez said. "We were their go-to team to beat. But to us, we just came to wrestle another match, honestly. We don't take any team lightly, but we don't take them too heavy, either. We just wanted to get pins when we could and stay off of our backs."
Coste, who won the 120-pound state champion as precocious, supremely driven freshman, has embraced more of a leadership role within the Wildcat program. Once a timid newcomer afraid to raise his voice and rally the team, Coste now has the cache and respect of his teammates because of his heralded work ethic and state title success.
"I'm trying to be as good of a teammate as I can be," Coste said. "I want to be a good leader helping out the younger kids. I tried to lead by example and work as hard as I can and just try to do everything right, school-wise, academically and in all aspects in life."
Coste said he's changed his mentality from a win-now, win-always outlook to one of staying in the moment and maintaining a big picture perspective.
"My dad always says the only things you can control are your attitude and effort," Coste said. "That's all I'm trying to do. The wins and losses will take care of themselves. All I need to do is wrestle my match and control what I can control. I want to compete, embrace challenges and embrace tough matches."
Coste has bulked up to the loaded 132-pound weight class and will compete in that bracket at the district and state tournaments. At the state level, the 132-pound level is famed for being the most rigorous to grind through as it's stacked with state-final-worthy entrants including Roseburg senior Bennett Mesa, who is hunting after his third straight state title.
"Going against good guys brings out your best," Coste said. "I love challenges. Wrestling in my high school (practice room) and club (practice) room has made me enjoy tough matches. I just have to control my attitude, press the pace and wrestle as hard as I can."
Capetillo (126 pounds) and Coste (132 pounds) handled their business as did 106-pounder Zaire Foster and 145-pounder David Frank in the lower weight divisions for Westview.
"Sometimes you see teams that fall down easily, but we didn't do that today," Coste said. "We competed real tough, fought for every takedown and every position. That's a big stepping stone physically and mentally leaning forward. Our team is real young, but mentally we're strong and tough."
But it was Aloha's middle-to-upper classes that shifted the balance of meet power to the Warriors' side of the mat. Lopez beat Timmons by decision, then 160-pound Miguel Alvarez, the 170-pound Papenfuhs, 195-pound Geordan Grund and 220-pound Ricky Tilbury all won by fall and 285-pound Brett Nicholson won by decision. Westview 182-pounder Isaiah Daniels pinned Aloha's Colton Melton, but by then Aloha had seized full control of the outcome.
"Pins build momentum," Papenfuhs said. "The guy in front of you gets a little more confident because there's a smaller gap between him and the guy behind him. And that confidence going into a match can set the tone for the match itself. Getting pins is important not just for yourself, but the guys behind you. It carries over."
Names like Lopez, Alvarez, Papenfuhs and Tilbury are well-known in the Warrior wrestling community. They've been around the program since their youth wrestling days and ascended to positions of power in the varsity lineup as possible state tournament contenders. Factor in freshmen such as 113-pounder Colton Flemming who won by fall and the Warriors can compete in every weight divisions with little hindrance.
"Our big guys really set the bar," Papenfuhs said. "That's our strongest point, but we have a very strong lineup across the board. Flemming has really impressed me all year. I think he's going to win districts as a freshman. We don't have any weak spots."
Papenfuhs said while Aloha's string of falls and decision wins were huge, what helped the Warriors' most were the guys like Joshua Rudnick who didn't get pinned. Rudnick faced the unsettling prospect of going toe-to-toe with Coste, but rather than falter in the first round, the Warrior went all six minutes with the champ and lost by major decision rather than fall. It's the little things, the point here or there that's saved on the scoreboard that make big differences in the win-loss column.
"Westview is a team that is up and down — they can be good or bad," Papenfuhs said. "There could've been a wide range of scores, but we knew we're Aloha and knew what we had to do. And, we knew if we won the matches we were supposed to win, we would win the dual."