TACOMA — With the weight of disproving the doubters off his shoulders, Mason Phillips soared to a second consecutive 3A state championship on Saturday, cradling and rolling his way to glory at Mat Classic XXIX in the Tacoma Dome.
The Stanwood junior capped a perfect 25-0 season with a 20-12 victory over Bonney Lake’s Mason Sabin in the 145-pound title bout, systematically breaking his opponent down after nearly ending the match after 20 seconds.
Phillips, as has become his trademark, went big off the opening whistle, nestling a figure-four leg lock around Sabin’s head that immediately put the Panthers’ junior on his back. Match officials labeled the move potentially dangerous and awarded Sabin a point, which only delayed the inevitable.
“It’s a little different the second time around,” Phillips said. “I just felt a lot less pressure this year instead of coming off an injury and having to beat the top guy at the time.”
Phillips dazzled and dominated all weekend, recording a pin sandwiched around a pair of technical falls in his three matches leading up to Saturday’s final against Sabin, a district and regional champion and a returning fifth-place finisher.
If there were any skeptics left, Phillips erased all doubt.
“It’s obvious that kid’s just at a different level,” said Peninsula coach Mark Nickels, who was in Seth Wahto’s corner as Phillips dismantled him in an 18-3 technical fall in their semifinal bout. “Seth is a solid kid, and in our room he’s throwing guys around, but for him to go up against a kid that we just don’t have any answers for, that’s impressive.”
Nickels knows superior talent, having coached 195-pounder Chance Stolz to a state title last season before he went on to wrestle at Arizona State.
While acknowledging the same spellbinding attributes that those who know the sport say about Phillips — innate feel, body control, reading moves — Nickels’ reminder of what forms the backbone of that excellence is important.
“It looks easy out here, but without knowing the kid very well, I’m sure hours and hours of effort and drilling went into that, Nickels said. “He’s comfortable and confident in every situation. There are plenty of state champions, elite kids, that can’t say that.”
Phillips’ commanding weekend came in the shadow of an improbably more prodigious feat.
Dalton Young of Lakeside (9 Mile Falls) won the 1A 138-pound championship to become the first wrestler in state history to finish his four-year career unbeaten.
Phillips is now 44-0 in his career, which began in his sophomore season after a torn ACL wiped out his freshman campaign. One can’t help but glimpse into the future, and if Phillips continues on his current trajectory, it’s not tough to imagine him entering Mat Classic 2018 without a loss.
“It’s absolutely incredible to finish your career undefeated,” Phillips said of Young’s historic weekend. “It was definitely one of my goals to be a four-time state champion and I never want to lose. But I have bigger goals in mind. Winning here is great, but I want a world title, and I’m going to take Sunday off and then get to work on that.”
Phillips said he plans to take some time in February to head to Ohio to train with Justin “Harry” Lester, a longtime international wrestler who has turned to coaching. In the summer, he may attempt to defend his national title in Fargo, North Dakota, but this time in the Junior division.
Looking ahead to his senior season at Stanwood, Phillips said he wants to work with Spartans coach Ray Mather to find his way into stacked tournaments like Tri-State and the Gut Check Challenge to get him matches against high-caliber opponents during the regular season between Wesco 3A North duals.
“I hope it starts with me, that from now on Stanwood will have the types of teams that will always be competing in those kinds of tournaments,” Phillips said.
The future looks bright for the Spartans, after freshman Riley Van Scoy placed third in his first state tournament, handling Arlington’s Gavin Rork after losses to the Arlington junior in the district and regional finals. Further down the line, Phillips and Mather gush about the success of Stanwood’s Scorpions youth club, some members of which were on hand Saturday to high-five Phillips after his title victory.
But the weekend belonged to Phillips, who mimicked UFC champion Conor McGregor after having his hand raised Saturday night, making a phone sign with his thumb and pinkie and pointing to an imaginary watch on his wrist.
“It’s time for college coaches to call me,” he said with a wry smile.
One foot in Tacoma, one eye on the future.