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West Valley senior Gaje Caro injured his shoulder while finishing fifth at last year’s Mat Classic. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Prep wrestling notebook: West Valley standout Gaje Caro aiming for higher Mat Classic finish after 2019 injury

Gaje Caro is still the feeling the effects of last year’s state semifinal loss.

The West Valley standout was a win away from reaching the 2A title match at the Mat Classic in Tacoma Dome before he was pitted against White River’s three-time state champion, Nate Moore.

He didn’t make things easy for Moore, who is now on a NCAA Division I roster at Northern Colorado.

Caro, then wrestling at 160 pounds, injured his shoulder in a 15-9 loss. He went on to finish fifth.

Now a 182-pound senior recently ranked as high as No. 1 in his new weight class, Caro’s injury still lingers, leading to three forfeit losses earlier this season.

“I felt like I was one of the best (in 2A), then I took a major step back,” Caro said. “But I’ve learned a lot since then and how to use more strategy in matches.”

Caro has won eight straight since his most recent injury forfeit on Jan. 4, and is aiming to be West Valley’s first individual state champion since 2016.

The defending District 4 champion put on about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason, and was regularly seen in the weight room by coach Geoff Hensley.

Hensley – West Valley’s head football and wrestling coach – noticed the difference immediately in September.

“He got a lot stronger,” Hensley said. “Coaches from other schools have come up to me and said, ‘Wow, he really bulked up since last season.’ ”

Caro, who has also recently competed in the 195-pound weight class, likes being in the higher weights.

“I grew a lot (in the offseason) and am comfortable at the weight I am at right now,” he said.

On a West Valley team littered with underclassmen – including Caro’s brother, freshman Wesley Caro – he’s been the Eagles’ primary leader.

A four-year varsity wrestler, Caro immediately impacted the program. A cut above teammates his size, Caro has often wrestled coaches in practice to better prepare him for big tournaments and the rigors of the Great Northern League.

“He’s a goof,” Hensley said. “He’s funny, but with a quiet sense of humor. All of a sudden he makes a joke.”

Caro’s older brother, Auston, also wrestled at West Valley, placing seventh at state in 2012. Two of his cousins also starred for area teams: North Central graduate Nathan Brown twice placed second at state. East Valley graduate Winston Scott also placed second.

Brown and Scott both wrestled collegiately, but Caro doesn’t yet know if he’ll continue to compete beyond high school.

Right he’s focused on a family tradition – bringing home another state medal.

“Wrestling is just something I’ve always liked,” Caro said. “I played other sports because my friends did it, but wrestling has been in the family a long time.

“I didn’t have to be super tall or super athletic to succeed.”

Mt. Spokane, Mead battle for title: The Greater Spokane League title will come down to a dual between rivals and state powers Mead (8-0) and Mt. Spokane (8-0) – again.

Mead, ranked sixth in 4A, makes the short trip to top-ranked and defending 3A state champ Mt. Spokane on Thursday. The winner takes home the GSL crown.

Mt. Spokane edged Mead 30-29 in last year’s showdown. The Wildcats’ Blake Haney came up with a dramatic pin in the final match to lift the Wildcats.

Mead beat Mt. Spokane 32-29 in the 2018 match.

Liberty undefeated at Dream Duals: Liberty won the “B” portion of the 30-team Washington Dream Duals last Saturday at the Spokane Convention Center, beating Chewelah in the 36-18 in the title match to finish the tournament 4-0.

Deer Park went 3-2 in the “A” tournament and finished fourth.

In the “4A/3A/2A” tournament, Moses Lake (4-0) and Mt. Spokane (3-0) were the only undefeated squads.

Among the top performers in their respective brackets were Liberty’s Charlie Harrington (3-0, 285 pounds), Deer Park’s Nathan Gregory (6-0, 120) and East Valley’s Avery Sundheim (4-0, 132).