Warrior wrestling rolls to Metro League title
With a coaching shift comes natural uncertainty, the wonder of what's to come, especially when a living legend steps down from his post.
But the Aloha Warrior wrestling program, through the passing of the torch from Stuart Kearsley to Tim Yee, continues to rumble along at a ferocious pace. In fact, Aloha might be better than ever.
At Metro League District championship meet — a tournament format that suits the Warriors' team strengths: unyielding depth and able-bodied grapplers — Aloha was again sensational, winning the two-day affair with 328.5 points for its second straight Metro tournament title at Southridge High on Saturday.
Four Warriors — 145-pound senior Ismael Garcia, 152-pound freshman Jackson Rosado, 170-pound senior Kyle McCalpin and 220-pound senior Brett Nicholson — all won district titles. Four more Warriors reached the championship round and took second place in their respective brackets. A whopping 14 Warriors punched their ticket to the Class 6A state championship meet next Friday and Saturday at the Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.
"I saw a lot of will power," Aloha 220-pound senior Brett Nicholson said. "A lot of our kids didn't wrestle in youth and they've just started in their high school experience. All of the individuals here work really hard and it shows."
"We really crushed it here," McCalpin said. "We've been working hard this whole season, really pushing in the wrestling room, and we showed it here today. Fourteen guys going to state is a lot, I don't know if we've ever had that many before. We're made for these district-style tournaments where we can come out and crush other teams because we have so much depth and good wrestlers. I think we can set a realistic goal of getting top-five (as a team) at state."
Nicholson and Rosado credited Yee and the Warrior coaching staff for the high volume of entrants and helping the team stay disciplined and focused on goals both as a team and an individual.
"They're great people," Rosado said. "They love the kids. If guys are overweight, they spend the extra hours after practice to get them down. They help us a lot. The entire atmosphere has been amazing. Yee is a great coach, everyone likes him. At practices, there are times where you need to knuckle down and listen to him. And then there are times where you can goof off.... He's an amazing coach, in my opinion."
"We switched it up in the (practice) room, there's no messing around at all," McCalpin said. "You can hear a pin drop in the room. All you hear is guys working hard, breathing hard, sweat dripping. Great practicing is what leads to these successful tournaments."
Century, who won the regular season Metro crown after not losing a dual meet all year, finished second with 272.5 points. Westview finished third with 232.5 points with two district champions: 106-pound Ziggy Foster, 120-pound Nick Capetillo and seven state qualifiers. Beaverton placed fourth overall with 162.5 points and seven state qualifiers including 120-pound Trey DeVault while newcomer Mountainside placed seventh with 105 points including its first two state qualifiers in school history: 106-pound freshman Aidan Lybarger and sophomore Marlon Barrios.
Sunset placed eighth overall with 102.5 points and two district champions: 132-pound senior Gavin Stockwell and 195-pound senior Scott Boyce. Southridge senior Devon Martin won a district title for the Skyhawks at 126 pounds. For Stockwell, it was his second career individual district title.
"It feels like just another step to state or just another step in my wrestling journey," Stockwell said. "I feel good about it. It's weird that it's been four years already. As my process goes, I'm just going to give it my all at state, see what happens and put everything out."
Stockwell let out a huge sigh of relief after pinning Liberty's James Roy in the first period. It was almost a deep release of exaltation, the build-up to the title was gone, the pressure was alleviated.
"It's like balancing a bunch of books on your head and then it all comes crashing down — it's relieving in some way," Stockwell said. "With every match there's this hesitation that comes. There's always a lot of mental stuff that goes through my head. I think I put a lot of work into this sport. I love it, it made me who I am. The payoff is good, the effort I put out and work I put in is given back to me."
Nicholson hasn't lost a match all season long for Aloha and finished off his district campaign with a strong armbar on Century's Anthony Perez that ended the match in the first period. A year ago, Nicholson won the heavyweight district title at 250 pounds, but slimmed down over the summer and came into the football season at a lean 222 pounds. Then Nicholson lost seven more pounds before the wrestling season.
"I stopped drinking soda for one," Nicholson said with a smile. "I went to the gym every morning, which was not fun, but it works for me. And I trained as hard as possible."
Initially, Nicholson said he didn't want to make the switch from heavyweight to cruiserweight. Comfortable with the level of competition at the 285-pound level despite giving up as much as 30 pounds to his opponents, Nicholson was content with chasing a state crown. But the pounds kept coming off him and soon Nicholson was a lean, mean cruiserweight who's enjoyed a breakout season that he hopes ends with a state championship medal wrapped around his neck.
"If you go back and look at my old photos, I don't have a chin," Nicholson said with a laugh. "Now, it's awesome. I feel great and have more confidence, too. I'm going for a state championship. It's going to take everything I have. I'm going to burn my tank."
Rosado put on one of the more vicious-looking bouts of the night, showing no fear against Southridge senior Jacob McRae, the Metro's top 152-pound seed. Only a freshman, who Nicholson thinks will win a state championship by his junior year, Rosado attacked the match like a linebacker, picking up and putting down McRae on the hard mat a number of times, causing a couple of injury stoppages en route to a 13-6 decision.
"I came into this season and showed people what I can do," Rosado said. "I was aggressive, but calm, keeping everything under control. My partners in the (Aloha wrestling) room are strong, they're great and get me into the shape I need to be. Everything is tough at (152). I just have to keep being aggressive, use my fundamentals, everything, and keep sharp at 100 percent."
McCalpin is one of Aloha's homegrown grapplers, one of the lifers who's grown up in the youth program dreaming of putting his name up on the Warrior practice room wall alongside fellow district champions of the past. The senior was diagnosed with arthritis in his knees and ankle during the season, curbing the number of matches McCaplin was able to compete in during the regular season. And during the title bout against Glencoe's David Stadelman, McCalpin said his knee gave out on him. Nonetheless, McCalpin stayed tough through the six minute decision.
"I just kind of died, to be honest," McCalpin said. "It was a hard, tough match, but I'm glad I pulled it out. Finally, all of the hard work paid off."