LYNNWOOD — Liam Ball’s eight-second pin of a Shorecrest wrestler in a Jan. 5 Wesco 3A dual meet was the Meadowdale senior 182-pounder’s season in miniature.
Bold, aggressive and unyielding.
According to Mavericks’ coach Brian Boardman, it equaled the fastest recorded pinfall during his 18-year tenure at Meadowdale.
The manner in which it was done was emblematic of the adjustments made by Ball that catapulted him to among the state’s elite in his senior campaign and has him pegged as the favorite to win the 3A state championship this weekend at Mat Classic XXIX.
“Boardman usually makes me take someone down three times before I pin them to work on stuff, but since it was Senior Night I wanted to see if I could get a quick pin for the home crowd to get people psyched up,” Ball said. “I took him down with a single leg and he went straight onto his back.”
After placing seventh at the state tournament as a junior, Ball decided he needed to get stronger — without becoming too bulky — to reach his next plateau.
“Between each season I usually do at least eight months of training, freestyle tournaments and three or four camps, but this season I changed it up a little bit because I thought I had all of the technique, if not better, that the kids I lost to at state had,” he said. “I had never really lifted before, so I talked our football coach into letting me train with the football team. They have a lot of strong kids and it really helped me out to go in before school and lift with them.”
Meadowdale football coach Matt Leonard led the Mavericks to the 3A state semifinals in the fall, and is an assistant to Boardman on the wrestling staff.
The strength Ball acquired during those workouts augmented the skill set of a wrestler who’s been competing since the age of 5.
Describing himself as a “little monster” as a youth wrestler, he had his first brush with quick-pin stardom as a 7-year-old, when KING-5 interviewed him after he recorded a six-second fall at a freestyle tournament.
Ball was also a competitive ice dancer and gymnast as a youngster, and the willingness to drill with zealous repetition has carried over from those other pursuits.
“If you repeat something enough times it becomes muscle memory, and when I drill, I repeat the same moves over and over again,” He said. “My skating coach would make me do the same lifts or jumps over and over again and it worked for me.”
Ball also comes from a wrestling family. His father, Gerald, was a high school wrestler and his older brother, Ciaran, was a three-time state placer for Meadowdale who graduated in 2014. Ciaran wrestles at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia alongside Morgan Smith, whose state championship in 2013 was the last for a Maverick wrestler.
“I went up there during winter break and trained with their team, and Ciaran’s coming down here (this week) and we’ll get some practices in together. Since he’s heavier than me, he’s a good challenge,” Liam said.
Ball has been a challenge for opponents this season, taking a 30-2 record into Mat Classic, with the only blemishes coming on the second day of the prestigious Tri-State Tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Battling antibiotic-resistant pneumonia, Ball was still able to rip through his first three matches on Day 1 and advance to the semifinals, but the illness caught up with him.
“In the semifinal, I felt my lungs give out toward the end,” he said. “I had a perfect shot and I couldn’t follow through. It was really frustrating for me because I felt like could have made a bigger noise at that tournament.”
He lost the semifinal and his next consolation match to finish sixth, but recovered well enough to beat Lake Stevens’ Malachi Lawrence 3-1 in double overtime in the finals of the Everett Classic.
“My experience at Tri-State fueled a fire, because I knew I could have done better,” Ball said. “I’ve known Malachi for a long time and practiced against him, so I know what he is capable of. I know what he does — the high-crotch, underhook and headlock — and I just thought to myself that I’m not going to let this guy score on me.”
Ball enters Mat Classic as the top-ranked 3A wrestler at 182 pounds according to WashingtonWrestlingReport.com and is No. 2 regardless of classification behind Auburn’s Cole Washburn (4A). He is the favorite to win the 3A state title, and while he would love to cap his career atop the podium, wrestling glory is one of many things he wants to accomplish.
“My dad is a union organizer and is huge into politics,” Ball said. “I’ve gone with him on weekends to campaign for (Washington governor) Jay Inslee and (state representative) Kristine Reeves. I’m vice president of our ASB and president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. I would love to win a state title and it’s been a goal of mine, I want to go on to college and have a profession. I have other goals and other passions.”
Ball said he’s unsure of his plans for college, and is weighing whether to continue wrestling after this weekend.
“I might go up and wrestle with my brother at Simon Fraser, but I haven’t decided,” he said. “I love Canada and I love SFU, but I haven’t made up my mind.”
This weekend, however, Ball will be on the attack for the duration of Mat Classic, and will stay true to what he loves most about wrestling.
“You go up against someone head-up, one man versus another man,” he said. “If you dominated, you’re the winner.”