For a year, Drew Fritz's competitive blood boiled.
Ahead 6-2 in the 2019 Metro League District tournament third-place match on Mountainside's Ramtin Yazdani, Fritz couldn't finish and lost his chance to clinch a berth at the Class 6A state championship meet. For a year, the loss ate at Fritz's psyche. But rather than deter him, the defeat set the rising senior ablaze. Even as he packed on muscle and grew physically during the summer, the Aloha senior knew Yazdani was going to situate himself at the 182-pound level come postseason time. So, as the second season neared, Fritz cut weight, conditioned, dieted, sacrificed and went down to the 182-pound division, all in the name of vengeance. Aloha wrestling superfan Kevin McCalpin claimed the Metro tournament title rematch with Yazdani would be Fritz's "Vision Quest", a chance to exact revenge just as Louden Swain did against Brian Shute.
In the best shape of his life and impelled as ever, Fritz outfought and outfoxed Yazdani in the 182-pound title bout to take home a 6-5 decision and help Aloha take second overall with 338 points just behind Mountainside at Westview High School on Feb 15. A pair of takedowns gave Fritz a 6-3 third period lead over Yazdani. From there, he was able to outlast the Maverick, fending off his attacks, muscling up to stave off any last-ditch efforts. At the end, as Aloha's section of fans roared and raved, a fresh-looking Fritz quickly got to his feet, stuck out his right hand and waited under the spotlight as a dejected, spent Yazdani peeled himself off the mat for the congratulatory, customary kudos.
"I proved last year was a fluke," Fritz said. "My mentality was I was going to stand on top of the podium at the end of the night and (Yazdani) wasn't going to stop me. It felt amazing. Our conditioning paid off. All of our guys at the end of our matches have been standing up tall, not really breathing hard while guys like (Yazdani) have been gassed and broken at the end."
Fritz's victory was one of many Warrior highlights on the night. Aloha dominated the finals' round of the tournament, taking home six first place finishes: Justin Fisher (126), Jonathan Flores-Garcia (132), Colton Fleming (152), Payton Volk (160) and Kieran McCalpin (170). Though Mountainside came away with the tourney crown, Aloha wasn't despondent, to say the least. As the smallest of the three Metro powers in terms of numbers and bodies, the Warriors had more first place wins than Westview and Mountainside combined.
"Honestly, I don't really see it as a loss because if you look at the podium, you see all the Aloha kids at the top," Kieran McCalpin said.
Jesus Orea (106) took third place as did Logan Moore (145), Trevor McCoy (160) and Julian Martinez (182). TJ Turner placed second in the 113-pound bracket.
"We completely rebuilt this program this year," Fritz said. "Our real goal this whole season has been state. What matters is we had guys placing second and third and getting into that tournament because anything can happen once you get there."
Aloha coach Ron Holyoak is one of the more humble, self-effacing instructors in the sport. He cares deeply about his grapplers on a personal level and wants them to become great people, not just state champion quality wrestlers. Holyoak knows when to push and when to pull back. But his conditioning tactics and belief that stamina and willpower can outweigh talent or accentuate it, took Aloha's already esteemed program up another level this year.
"If you have that positive mindset, with our conditioning, nobody can make us quit," Fritz said. "We'll keep going all the way through. By the time we get to the third round we're always going to more conditioned than our opponent and that's when we can break people. Our conditioning is night and day better than it was last year. If I had a three-round match last year, I'd still be breathing heavy, drenched in sweat."
"I just remind myself what my goals are and what I need to do to get there," McCalpin said. "When we're tired, I just say to myself 'State champ, state champ, state champ', and it gets me through."
During practices, occasionally, the Warriors would be grouped into trios and asked to wrestle one another for 10 minutes straight, no stoppages or whistles unless blood is spilled. At one practice, Fritz said the Warriors did 40 consecutive sprints down and back across the mat with little rest in between. Even warmups are designed to gas the Warriors out and acclimate them to match-like conditions. When the bouts began, Aloha was fresh. At districts, matches that lasted until the final period felt like a breeze compared to the grueling work the Warriors put in just to get to this point. Wrestling in the finals was fun, child's play, really, when contrasting practice with real-life competitions.
"We're big believers in 'Fake it until you make it,'" Fritz said with a laugh. "Anytime our coach asks how we're doing we have to say 'Great'. We could be puking. We could be on our death bed, but we have to say 'Great.'"
All 11 of the state-qualifying Warriors will represent their school and program at the Class 6A state championship meet on Feb. 28 and 29 at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. For more on Mountainside's district showing as well as other tournament results, please visit www.beavertonvalleytimes.com.
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