Many Beaverton-area Metro League wrestling programs have tried and many have fallen short of dismissing Aloha from the summit of the conference ranks.
It doesn't matter that there's been a coaching change at the top or that newer faces take up some of the weight classes. The Warriors, frankly, stay winning and stay pinning, if you will.
In what's become an annual opening litmus test matchup with perennial threat Westview, Aloha again staked claim as the best Beaverton-area program in Metro, beating the Wildcats 39-31 at Westview High School on Dec. 6.
The Warriors have never been anything but the hunted, the big game every Metro contender froths to bag. But Aloha's competitive edge has been hardened and sharpened by the heightened expectations. It's a healthy performance angst that keeps them razor-edged. They're driven to keep what they've built protected, by sending their best wrestlers to the Viper Mat Club in Hillsboro after practices and on the weekends for additional training and technique instruction, by refusing to be outworked by their competition.
"It's fun, but also nerve-wracking to keep that mentality of 'We're the best,'" Aloha's Colton Melton said. "We know everyone's coming for us, after winning the last two Metro titles, but we're ready. I know it's kind of cliché, but we just drill hard at practice. We're supposed to start practice at 3 p.m., but we're there 10 minutes early and just keep going as hard as we can. We have great coaches who have great teaching methods that help the team grow."
Westview came in ready with a lineup that boasts a state champion in Joey Coste, a state runner-up in Nick Capetillo, contenders such as Tre Blasingame — a boon transfer from Beaverton — and lighter weight contenders Zaire Foster (106 pounds) and Zeeshan Naeem (120 lbs) who won by pin and major decision against Aloha. 285-point Angel Omar Blas had the quickest fall of the night, snatching up Caleb Soderback-Jones and pounding him to the mat surface in just 21 seconds.
"Overall I thought we competed well, especially for our first time out here," Coste said. "We have a lot of young kids wrestling their first match, so there's nerves and anxiousness. But there's nothing to hang our heads about. Aloha is tough. In the Metro League, a lot of teams are spotty, but they're solid through the whole lineup. There were a couple of matches in this dual that were really important. If those go our way maybe the score is different. But at the end of the day, I think we're the two best teams in Metro."
Coste said his goal this year, as a junior captain with all kinds of clout and decoration on his résumé, is to get the best out of every Wildcat to help Westview continue to bud as one of the better programs in 6A. By leading by example and making wrestling fun, Coste hopes to groom the 'Cats into state title contenders.
"This year talent-wise we're the best we've ever been," Coste said. "This is the most bonded we've been, too, which is huge when it comes to team tournaments. I think we're headed in the right direction. We're still real young. We have kids who are tremendous athletes and throughout the season you're definitely going to see progress."
It was Aloha head coach Timothy Yee's first triumph in a Metro dual meet setting, the first of what figures to be countless crusades over the conference field for years to come. Yee took over for Stuart Kearsley, who retired in the offseason after a long, legendary tenure as Aloha's head coach. Kearsley turned the Warriors into one of the state's best, most consistent programs, a perennial power that put up all those wrestling banners you see hanging in the Aloha High School gymnasium. Yee is a gatekeeper of sorts, the man entrusted with keeping the tradition going. What better way to start than knocking off an up-and-coming Wildcat program that's going to be a big factor at the district tournament in February is predicted by some, along with Century, to contend for a top-five showing at state?
"I told my kids it was going to be a battle," Yee said. "It was going to come down to specific matches, so we had to go out there, battle and get those key pins. My kids worked their butts off today and I can't thank them enough. (Westview head coach) Mike Delaney does a great job with his program and I respect him a lot and it just feels great to get my first win here."
Westview got out to a 25-6 lead after Foster, Capetillo and Coste recorded falls and Naeem and Blasingame won by major decision and decision, respectively. But, Aloha's strength lies in the middle and upper weight classes. And from 145-pound Joshua Rudnick through 220-pound Trey Nicholson, Aloha didn't lose a bout, reeling off seven straight wins to open up a 39-25 edge.
"It starts at the beginning of the season with a mentality of 'They shoot, I score, I shoot, I score,'" Yoon said. "I don't care if you're wrestling a state champion, a state placer and you're new to the program. You go out there and you battle and you don't give up. If you get a guy on his back, we don't let them up. We put in hard work and that pays off."
Rudnick, 160-pound Ismael Garcia, 182-pound Geordan Grund and Melton all won by fall, picking up six pivotal points apiece. Melton's pin came at a critical time as Aloha led just 30-25. Wrestling in place of the injured Kyle McCalpin, Melton said he couldn't miss his chance to make a huge impact on Aloha's team total.
"(McCalpin) is better than me ... I'm just glad I got the opportunity to wrestle and had to make sure I didn't abuse that opportunity," Melton said. "It felt great, especially because the team score was so close. To get that pin was amazing. I can feel myself shaking I'm so happy."
Melton pinned Westview's Kianush Behbehani-Escobar with 30 seconds left in the second period.
"(Behbehani-Escobar) looked strong, but I didn't think he was going to be that strong," Melton said with a smile. "I was going to use a sweep-single or something that would catch him off-guard, but he was so strong that I had to change my gameplan."
Kearsley left behind a lineup that's littered with seven returning state qualifiers, many of whom were key reasons why Aloha exited Westview with the win. Yee foresees seven possible district champions: Colton Fleming, McCalpin, Rudnick, Rosado, Alvarez, Grund, and Trey Nicholson, five of whom won against Westview. Melton, who qualified for state as a sophomore, stepped into a key match and carried his weight.
"He's one of the hardest workers in our (wrestling) room," Yoon said. "He's put in a lot of extra work in the off-season and he's one of those guys who's going to surprise a lot of people this year."
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