When Marysville Pilchuck’s Cayden White was in despair after losing in the Class 3A championship bout at 170 pounds last February at Mat Classic XXXI, he found some solace in the words of the person who put him in that state.
Bethel’s Josh Walker, a senior, was, quite simply, better than White, a junior, in a 10-2 win in that title match. Bigger, faster and stronger.
But Walker, who had gotten to know White through their time competing for Team Washington together at Cadet and Junior National Duals, saw that with effort, White wouldn’t have to feel the pain of losing in the Tacoma Dome again.
“He told me if I got a little stronger and kept working, that I would win next year,” White said after the match.
White took that advice to heart, training at Momentum Performance Training throughout the offseason to increase his flexibility and explosiveness, and getting as much time on the mat as he could.
“Right after that weekend, it hurt me a lot,” White said recently. “Mentally, it helped that I was able to just keep wrestling. I just didn’t stop.”
He and Walker, now a freshman on the wrestling team at Arizona Christian University, have stayed in touch.
“I think good wrestlers respect other good wrestlers,” first-year Marysville Pilchuck coach Marcus Haughian said. “Cayden probably picked his brain a couple of times about different techniques and strategies for how to get to the finals this year. I think it was a blessing for Cayden. You’re always looking for more information as a wrestler.”
Even though White (33-1) is up a weight class to 182 this season, he said that with the extra training he feels as agile as he did at 170. His only loss came in the semifinals of the Gut Check tournament, a 3-2 defeat to Chiawana’s Tyson Stover, a defending 4A state champion.
White enters this weekend’s Mat Classic XXXII as the favorite to cap his Tomahawks career as a state champion before he leaves to join the wrestling team at Minot State in North Dakota next year.
With his semifinal victory at the 3A Region 1 tournament Saturday, White set the school record for career pins, breaking the mark of 100 set by Drew Hatch.
“(Winning a state title) would mean the world,” White said. “I’ve been training since I was in third grade and I’ve always wanted to succeed in this sport and be the best I can be. I’ve been excited about it and I’m always thinking about it. It would be a great way to go into my college career.”
For White and the area’s four other returning state finalists, dealing with defeat on the wrestling mat is a rare event.
Between them, White, Kamiak’s Diana Cantini, Sultan’s Aidan Fleming, Darrington’s Johnny Franke and Lake Stevens’ Kiley Hubby have just losses this season.
Getting to a state final is an achievement in itself, but coming up a step short of a state title can be demoralizing. Each of the five returning finalists have used their defeats last season as motivation to put things right this weekend in Tacoma. Here’s how.
Diana Cantini, Kamiak
Immediately after her loss via second-period pin to Salyna Shotwell of Rogers of Puyallup at 115 pounds, Cantini, then a junior, was just happy to have reached the final.
“Honestly, I wasn’t super disappointed,” she said at the time. “When I went into state, my goal was to be in the top five after being seventh the year before, so I was pretty happy with getting second.”
As time went by, and Cantini wrestled some offseason freestyle matches with the Snohomish-based Bad Draw Wrestling Club, her appetite for wrestling success grew.
And when Tyler Webley, a Kamiak alumnus who wrestled at the University of Providence in Montana, joined the Knights’ coaching staff for the 2019-20 season, the fighter within Cantini was awakened.
“I’ve definitely set the bar pretty high for myself,” Cantini said. “I’ve been doing things outside of practice, like cardio before school, and (Webley) has really upped the intensity in practice and has taught us to just be a fighter out there and to not be afraid to be in pain. I want to impose my will on the person I’m wrestling, whereas before when I would wrestle, I wasn’t really focused on that.”
Cantini enters Mat Classic unbeaten at 32-0, with a possible championship rematch with Shotwell in the cards.
“She’s wrestled all year like she never lost (the final),” Kamiak girls wrestling coach John Baldwin. “She has prepared to go back to the finals and take it all this time.”
Aidan Fleming, Sultan
Fleming’s 3-1 loss to Colville’s Trent Baun in the 1A 132-pound title bout as a junior last year was a moment in Washington wrestling history.
Baun became the 17th wrestler to win four state championships, but Fleming made him earn it, giving up only an escape and a first-period takedown.
But the main takeaway for Fleming and Sultan coach Garth MacDicken was on the offensive end of things.
“He beat me on my feet, and that’s what I knew I had to get better at,” Fleming said. “I realized how important footwork is, and how important winning the battle on your feet is to winning tight state matches. I had to get faster and pick my shots better to make matches like that winnable.”
Fleming (32-6), who accounts for six of the combined 11 losses this season by the five returning state finalists, was willing to sacrifice wins early in the season to try out his new offensive techniques.
“Learning to wrestle on your toes and learning to shoot on your feet takes a little bit of trust in yourself, and I feel like everything I’ve done has paid off,” he said. “You don’t just wake up able to do it.”
Fleming will have to get through a tough bracket this weekend to claim a title, with seven state placers among the 16-man field at 132 pounds, including Colville’s Rueben Seeman, last year’s champion at 138.
Johnny Franke, Darrington
Ray Franke, Johnny’s father and the Loggers’ coach, said Johnny could have dropped to 182 pounds for last year’s postseason, which Ray said would have given Johnny an easier path to his first state title.
Johnny said “no.”
“He likes to challenge himself,” Ray Franke said of his son, who fell 5-3 to three-time champ Isaac Gomez of Tonasket in a cagey match that swung on a first-period takedown.
“We talked about cutting down to 182, which his weight assessment would have let him do, and we knew the kids at 182 and Johnny had beaten them already at tournaments at camps. But he said, ‘I want to wrestle Gomez at 195. Then it’ll mean something.’”
It didn’t work out last season, but Franke (41-2), who placed third at the prestigious Tri-State and Gut Check tournaments this season against elite competition, is the favorite at 195 this weekend.
“It helped drive me to be better this season, and it was good to have that experience,” he said. “If I can make it back there, I think I’ll be a little more comfortable in that moment.
“I’ve practiced all year to be back in that moment.”
Kiley Hubby, Lake Stevens
Hubby fell 3-1 in overtime to Annabelle Helm of Union at 170 pounds.
Hubby (28-2) has three top-three state finishes, including a state title at 145 pounds in 2018 while wrestling for Glacier Peak.
“Unfortunately that match didn’t go our way, but she has continued to train relentlessly all year long and hasn’t dwelled on that particular match. That’s part of wrestling,” said Al Soler, coach of the new Lake Stevens girls program.
“She has her sights set on winning a state title, and she’s doing what it takes to get there. She trains like a champion.”