Stanwood wrestling coach Ray Mather very early recognized Mason Phillips’ skill extending miles beyond the caliber of wrestler the Spartans’ wrestling room accommodated.
“He outgrew our program pretty quickly in his career,” Mather admitted.
A wrestling prodigy making waves growing up in north Snohomish County, Phillips captured two national titles before he donned a Stanwood High School singlet. He secured a third following his first state Mat Classic championship during his sophomore year at Stanwood. A second state title followed his junior season, and months later Phillips wrestled in the Cadet Greco-Roman World Championships in Athens, Greece.
Phillips, a skillful, savvy, technically so-far-beyond-everyone-else wrestler who loves the sport to his core, had accomplished just about everything a 17-year old could on a mat before his senior year began last winter.
But even though a third state championship for Phillips seemed a foregone conclusion, facing inferior competition to what he’d wrestled nationally, Phillips’ final year with the Spartans was still held special meaning.
“For me, wrestling for Stanwood was more doing it for my hometown where I grew up and having fun with it being my last year in high school,” Phillips said. “Wanting to leave a legacy behind was a big thing. When I was young, I would go over to the high school and watch those guys as if they were legends, see what they were doing and look up to those guys. They helped guide me in my dreams and goals, and it’s a big thing for me to leave something behind so (younger wrestlers) can understand they can do the same thing if they work hard.”
Phillips, The Herald’s 2018 Boys Athlete of the Year, was dominant his senior year.
He maintained his perfect record, finishing 85-0 for his career while easing his way to a third straight state championship.
The 145-pounder pinned his way through the Mat Classic XXX semifinals before beating Redmond’s Jeremy Hernandez in the finals via technical fall in 3 minutes, 56 seconds. Phillips toyed with the Redmond junior, setting him free so he could quickly score another takedown before ending the match with a 23-7 victory. It was an approach Phillips took all season in his quest to surpass 300 takedowns in a single year. He finished with a school-record 313.
The win placed the finishing touch on a 40-0 senior season and ended the career of a wrestler who is widely regarded among the best in Washington state history.
“He had his own personal goals and records he was trying to break,” Mather said. “He doesn’t want to dominate a kid so bad it will ruin his self-esteem. He worked on technique and other moves he’s learned at different levels. He won 85 matches and probably in 65-70 he could have ended those in less than 30 seconds if he wanted to.”
Eight months ago, after mulling college offers from the country’s top wrestling programs, Phillips committed to the University of North Carolina. Besides competing for a premier program, Phillips plans to study business, and pegged UNC for its elite business school.
Chapel Hill is Phillips’ next stop along a wrestling journey he hopes will lead him to the pinnacle of the sport.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” said Phillips of UNC. “I have big goals, and I set them as high as I can. One day I want to make the Olympic team. That is a long-term goal to get a medal at the Olympics. First I want to get in the NCAA Tournament and go for a national title.”