Lake Stevens wrestler is best of the best

Lake Stevens wrestler Josh Heinzer has a new title to add to his collection of honors: national champion.

The three-time Washington state champion beat tough competitors — often first or second place finishers in their respective states — at the National High School Coaches Association Senior Nationals Wrestling Championship on March 27 to take the 112-pound title.

“I didn’t really expect to win it but I did and that was pretty cool,” Heinzer said.

The win marks the first time a Lake Stevens wrestler has won a national high school title in the 21-year history of the competition. It’s also just the fourth time an athlete from Washington as taken top honors at a national meet.

The country-wide competition, which was held at Virginia Beach, Va., is considered a prestigious athletic event that brings the country’s best high school senior wrestlers together to vie for the championship trophy in front of often over 200 college recruiters.

This year, Heinzer competed against 30 of the nation’s top wrestlers in the 112-pound weight division to take the title. In the championship match, Heinzer wrestled Texas state champion, Alex Gilpin, and won with a 13-6 decision.

However, he nearly missed the finals thanks to a hard fought semifinals match, which Heinzer said was his toughest bout in the tournament. He battled Pennsylvania state champion David White, who Lake Stevens wrestling coach Brent Barnes labeled as “highly touted,” to a close 3-1 decision. White finished in third.

“(The biggest challenge) was trying to stay calm under all the pressure,” said Heinzer. “That was my biggest key. Don’t get too far in over my head and take it one match at a time.”

He also prevailed in the early rounds against wrestlers from New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana.

Lake Stevens had two other All-Americans — wrestlers who finish in eighth place or better in their division — at the event: Steven Walkley with seventh place at 135 pounds and Josh Villani with sixth place at 160 pounds.

Heinzer, who graduates in June, hopes to wrestle for an out-of-state college but has yet to make a final decision on a school. One of the reasons he decided to enter the tournament was to possibly expand his options for college wrestling.

After first trying baseball and football as a child, Heinzer, who was short for his age, decided to switch sports. The then-fifth grade and 77-pound Heinzer chose wrestling and quickly found that he had a natural talent.

“I never really wrestled my weight. I always bumped up,” said Heinzer, who often wrestled in the 84 and 91 pound divisions in elementary school.

As he progressed into high school, Heinzer began to view wrestling as a form of stress relief.

“One of the biggest things for me was if at school I had a bad day, I would then go to the wrestling room and get to beat someone up and not get in trouble,” said Heinzer.

The sport proved to be more beneficial than merely releasing some pent-up aggression and he won a state title the past three years. As a sophomore, Heinzer won the 103-pound division and followed that up with a win at 112-pounds as a junior. On Feb. 20, he completed his trifecta with a 13-4 decision against Bryce Evans of Rogers High School in Puyallup.

With the win at nationals, Heinzer capped off his high school wrestling career in a big way and has a “huge” trophy to ensure that he never forgets his winning moment.

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