He mopped mats. He coached teammates. He even repaired their bloody noses.
"He's been a good team captain," said Dan Hanika, Graika's coach at Kamiak High School. "He supported the guys that were wrestling in his spot."
They filled Graika's 152-pound slot in the lineup for more than a month after the senior suffered a potentially season-ending knee injury.
But this week Graika's sore knee felt better, and just in time. Finally, he can lead by dominating on the mat, not cleaning it.
"It feels good, going out there and winning kind of quick," Graika said after getting a pin Friday during the first session of the Class 4A District 1 Wrestling Tournament at Jim Linden Field House.
After receiving a first-round bye, Graika pinned two opponents to advance to the semifinals, which begin today. Graika's second-round triumph was his first official match since late December.
"He's got it in his heart," Hanika said of Graika's district-title aspirations. "I just hope he has it in his lungs." Graika's return was one of the biggest surprises at the tourney, the first postseason event for athletes from 13 local 4A teams. Seeing Lake Stevens atop the team leaderboard, however, was about as shocking as learning that yet another Hollywood super-couple split up.
Lake Stevens, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A by Washington Wrestling Report, had 13 wrestlers advance to the semifinals. The Vikings scored 243.5 points to distance themselves from second-place Snohomish (197.5), Kamiak (153) and Mariner (134).
"Obviously we have to come out here and compete like it's the state tournament," Lake Stevens senior Kelly Kubec said. "Everything kind of flows down from here. How well you do here (dictates) how you're gonna do next weekend." Friday's session included three championship rounds and three consolation rounds on six mats. Session 2 starts at 11 a.m. today. The championship finals will take place on four mats and are set for approximately 4 p.m.
Top-five finishers in each weight division qualify for the regional tourney Feb. 9-10 at Snohomish High. Sixth-place finishers will wrestle a winner-to-regional, loser-out match against third-place finishers from District IV.
Lake Stevens' Kubec, a two-time state champion, pinned all three of his opponents at 130 pounds on Friday. The Oregon State University recruit could battle teammate Josh Eacrett in the finals.
Other Lake Stevens semifinalists are: Zach Zweifel and Jack Stillwell (both 103), Sean Anderson (119), Alex Pelligrini (125), Josh Monson (135), Mitch Tipton (140), George King (145), Kyle Hughes (160), Alex Walkley (171), Darren McGuire (189) and Blake Austin (215).
"We've got to have three great tournaments in a row if we want to be a state-championship team," Kubec said. "I think we can. ... I know we can." Casey Finnicum of Mountlake Terrace blasted through the 171 bracket with three first-round pins. "It's a good roll to go on, pinning people, especially the first day," said Finnicum, ranked No. 1 in 4A.
Meanwhile, Kamiak's Graika hopes to continue his unlikely comeback today and ultimately get to state. An injury spoiled that goal last season.
"He's a senior so this is his last shot," Hanika said of Graika, who enrolled at Kamiak after moving to the area from Valdez, Alaska the summer before his junior year.
As matches get more difficult, will Graika have enough endurance following the long injury-induced layoff? "He hasn't forgotten how to wrestle. But he's got to be able to hang in there with the good guys and go (three rounds)," said Hanika.
Hanika has an excellent scouting report on Graika's semifinal opponent. It's Monroe's Joe Hanika, the Kamiak coach's son.
At Marysville-Pilchuck H.S.
Team scores after Session 1
1. Lake Stevens 243.5, 2. Snohomish 197.5, 3. Kamiak 153, 4. Mariner 134, 5. Monroe 117, 6. Stanwood 111, 7. Marysville-Pilchuck 109.5, 8. Edmonds-Woodway 101, 9. Oak Harbor 89, 10. Cascade 80, 11. Mountlake Terrace 64, 12. Jackson 61.5, 13. Shorewood 33.
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