LAKE STEVENS — In his quieter moments, Lake Stevens senior wrestler Malachi Lawrence is standing on the bank of the Skykomish River near Gold Bar, fishing rod in hand, steelhead in his sights and only the sound of the running river breaking the silence.
Lawrence’s father, Brandon, put a rod in his son’s hand when Malachi was a 3-year-old living in Grand Lake, Colorado, and the youngster’s love for fishing grew despite moves to Kuna, Idaho, when he was 4 and Lake Stevens when he was 9.
“My room looks like a tackle shop,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been really into Spey casting, which is like fly fishing but with a 12-foot rod. It’s a beautiful way to fish.”
The image of the hulking, barrel-chested Lawrence standing serenely on a riverbank contrasts sharply with one of him on the wrestling mat, where he won a Class 4A state championship for Lake Stevens at 170 pounds as a junior last season and will be a favorite to repeat in February.
Lawrence’s title last season extended the streak of Lake Stevens and coach Brent Barnes having at least one state champion in 21 consecutive years.
Lawrence is coiled aggression, his thick frame stalking the opponent. His weapon of choice is a high-crotch takedown out of an underhook, a move that he’s perfected over the course of a career that started when he was in first grade.
“I’ve done the high-crotch underhook my whole life. I feel like I’ve just perfected it,” Lawrence said. “That’s just what I do. In reality, I haven’t added that much to my arsenal since I’ve been in high school. What I’ve added, and what Barnes has helped me most with, is mental toughness.”
Lawrence doesn’t rely so heavily on the underhook high-crotch so much because he’s limited offensively. He uses the maneuver so often because opponents can’t stop it.
On the contrary, Barnes said Lawrence’s range of reliable offensive attacks — especially from a neutral position — is vast.
Asked to compare Lawrence with Cody Vigoren, a two-time state champion at 195 pounds for Lake Stevens who now wrestles at Wyoming, Barnes said Lawrence has the more well-rounded offense among the two Vikings, each of whom is known for his physicality.
“Other than they’re both really, really strong and both are tough guys, they’re pretty different,” Barnes said. “Malachi has a little bit more (offensively) than what Cody had, and Cody wasn’t an offensive machine on his feet. Malachi has a phenomenal offensive from the neutral position. In the state finals, he didn’t rely on the high crotch. He used the single leg, and there’s other things he can do, but when you have something as good as he has, there’s no reason you shouldn’t use it.”
Once he uses the underhook high-crotch to get the opponent on the mat, Lawrence is quick to get a leg in, another tactic anathema to a shorter wrestler.
“Malachi is surprisingly good from the top position, which is not typical of a guy that’s short,” Barnes said. “Once he gets his legs in there so powerfully, it’s got to be pretty uncomfortable. He’s just a guy that has been wrestling for a long time and understands what works for him and how to use that body. He knows how to use his tools.”
Lawrence also works very hard for his physique. He estimates he’s in the weight room three to four days per week, 11 months a year, taking August off.
“That’s what I’m known for — being brutishly strong,” Lawrence said. “Of course, a lot has come from genetics, but I put my fair share of time in the weight room.”
That strength aided Lawrence on the football field, where he played through his sophomore season at Lake Stevens. He misses his teammates on the gridiron, but he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on wrestling year-round.
“Football is fun and I really liked the guys, but wrestling is just such a completely different world,” he said. “I like it so much better, and the companionship with your wrestling teammates is just closer. I don’t regret not playing anymore.”
Lawrence’s love of the sport came from his father, a former wrestler.
“The first time he took me to a wrestling practice, I didn’t really like it,” Lawrence said. “But I went back, I made some friends and I started to really like it. I jumped from a beginner’s class to the advanced one pretty soon after and since then, wrestling’s always just been there. It’s always been a part of my life, and I always wanted to be in that room.”
Lawrence has competed in plenty of offseason tournaments, winning the Washington State Wrestling Association’s Greco-Roman title and finishing second in freestyle in May.
He also placed fourth in freestyle at the Western Junior Regional in Las Vegas in April.
But for all of his individual accomplishments, Lawrence said his proudest moment as a wrestler is helping Lake Stevens to its 11th Class 4A team title at Mat Classic 2016. He finished third at 160 pounds that day.
“Winning that sophomore year was the coolest thing I’ve done with Lake Stevens wrestling,” he said. “I’d love to see us win another one. Of course I’d like to win an individual title, but that team title is what I really want. I feel like if everyone does their job, and a few key guys step up to the plate, I think we can do it.”
Lawrence has received interest from programs such as Michigan and Ohio State to continue his wrestling career in college, but he’s not sure that’s what he wants.
“I’m still trying to figure all that out. I’m not 100 percent on it. I’ve done it for so long that this might be the last hurrah,” he said. “I’ll try and get on that case after the wrestling season.”
Don’t be surprised if the decision is made on the banks of the Skykomish River, when the steelhead are biting.