It’s been 37 years since North Central captured a state wrestling trophy.
Ranked second among 3A teams most of the season, the Indians, who finished runner-up to Shadle Park at the regional tournament, are ranked fourth headed to Mat Classic XXII on Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
NC coach Luke Leifer thought his team needed to qualify at the minimum eight to challenge for the title. Now he’s hopeful the Indians can contend for third and at least fourth. The top four earn trophies.
The team aspiration will take a back seat to what NC’s six state qualifiers hope to accomplish.
“I’ve told the guys to focus on themselves,” Leifer said. “The team aspect is a bonus now.”
Five of NC’s state qualifiers are bound to score big points. Four of them – junior Jared Berlinger (119 pounds) and seniors Nathan Brown (125), Ben Carter (171) and Steve Taylor (heavyweight) – could be state finalists if not champions.
Berlinger (33-5) is ranked third. He lost to the top seed, Dylan Hyder of Yelm, 2-1 in triple overtime at state last year.
“I think I have a good chance to win state,” said Berlinger, a three-time state qualifier. “I’ve got to work hard, fix my mistakes and perfect what I already know how to do.”
Berlinger, who took third at Tri-State earlier this season, was seventh at state as a freshman and fifth last year.
“He could win the whole thing,” Leifer said. “His technique is awesome.”
Brown (36-4) is a four-time state qualifier. He took second at state last year.
He’s ranked third, but twice beat top-ranked Drew Dacey of Auburn Mountainview at Tri-State – once by pin and once by major decision. Brown probably would be ranked ahead of Dacey except Brown lost once to No. 2-ranked Hunter File of Sedro-Woolley. Dacey has beaten File five times this year.
Three of Brown’s four losses this year have been to state champs.
“Personally, the only person who can beat me right now is myself,” Brown said.
“He’s an outstanding wrestler,” Leifer said. “He just can’t wrestle timid. He’s got to go out and wrestle to win.”
Brown doesn’t plan anything less.
“I just have to avoid stupid mistakes,” he said. “My confidence is pretty high right now. I’ve been wanting to win a state title since I was a little kid. It’s not something I want. It’s something I’ve got to do.”
Carter (31-5), ranked second, probably faces the toughest task. The top seed is Sedro-Woolley senior Derek Garcia, a three-time state champ who has won a national freestyle championship.
The two squared off in the regional final last Saturday with Garcia posting a 5-0 win. Carter pulled off a minor moral victory, though, by forcing Garcia to go three periods – something he hadn’t had to do since his sophomore season.
“He wasn’t as tough as I thought he’d be,” Carter said. “I expected to get my butt kicked.”
Carter hopes making Garcia go the distance one more time at state could work to his advantage.
“He was pretty gassed at regionals,” Carter said. “I’m looking forward to (a rematch). I have better conditioning.”
Carter surprised himself last year when he took second at state, but he wants more.
“I wouldn’t be satisfied with second,” Carter said. “Second would be the worst. I don’t want to lose the last match of my high school career.”
Taylor (28-8), who is ranked second, figures to see the same opponent he’s seen in the district and regional title matches – top-ranked Jose Barajas of Sunnyside. Barajas tripped Taylor 2-1 on a stalling call two weeks ago and then topped Taylor 9-3 last Saturday.
Taylor wants to finish on top. To do that, he must wrestle much better than he has against Barajas.
“I’ve been wrestling like a little girl,” Taylor said.
The thing is Taylor isn’t little – not at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds.
Taylor wants to become the first heavyweight in school history to win a state title.
“He just needs to be patient,” Leifer said.