TACOMA – Both JJ Schoenlein and Malachi Wallway entered the Mat Classic state wrestling championships with a mental plan of staying in the moment.
By doing that, each now has a moment they’ll remember the rest of their lives.
Schoenlein and Wallway won state championships on Saturday, each fulfilling goals they’ve held since traveling to the annual Tacoma Dome event as young children.
Schoenlein, a Skyview sophomore, won the Class 4A title at 170 pounds. After beating Hanford’s Eli Perkes 6-5 in the championship match, Schoenlein let out a loud yell and leapt into his coaches’ arms.
It was a fitting celebration to cap a dominant season, one that saw Schoenlein lose just once.
“My whole life I’ve been waiting for this high school state title,” Schoenlain said. “I came here when I was 7 years old and couldn’t even believe that I was watching high schoolers. Now to be one and to be a state champion is pretty crazy to me.”
To not get overwhelmed by the Mat Classic’s pressure, Schoenlein worked all season on mental preparation. That paid off during two close matches Saturday – a 4-3 semifinal win over Kennedy Catholic’s Emanuele Collins and a championship match in which he trailed 2-0 early.
“The mindset I had going into this tournament was only look forward, never look back,” Schoenlein said. “Focus on my breathing, keep my nerves down. My coaches are insanely good on the mental side of things so they’ve really taught me a lot this year.”
Wallway also overcame pressure in one of the tournament’s closest contests. The La Center senior used a split-second of brilliance to pin Castle Rock’s Cooper Williams in overtime of the Class 1A 120-pound championship match.
After the pin, the La Center senior dropped to his knees and blew a kiss to the sky. Then he was overcome by the emotions that accompany reaching a goal 15 years in the making.
“Once I got the takedown I was like yes. Then the pin came and I went YES!, “ Wallway said. “Growing up I had all these idols, watching them win state titles. I’ve sacrificed. I’ve cried. I’ve bled. Just for this.”
Wallway didn’t let the magnitude of the moment rattle him. Instead, he focused on just being his best second by second.
“Just have fun,” Wallway said. “Love it. You’re not promised tomorrow. You won’t be able to wrestle your whole life. You’ve got to enjoy these moments.”
Nothing separated Wallway and Williams during regulation of the championship match, which ended scoreless.
That was also the case during their two previous clashes this season. Williams, a freshman, won the Trico League title 8-4. But Wallway, who placed third in state last year, got revenge at the regional meet, winning the title match 2-1.
“He’s a hell of a wrestler,” Wallway said of Russell. “He’s got three more years. He’s this good.”
Moments after Wallway became La Center’s first state wrestling champion since 2015, teammate Aidan Watson fell short in his bid for the 126-pound state title.
The senior was pinned in the second period by Justyce Zuniga of Toppenish. But Watson will take pride in an exciting semifinal win where he pinned Wapato’s Christopher Garza despite trailing 8-7 with less than 30 seconds left in the match.
Koyama, Pritchard Class 4A runners-up
Union sophomore Noah Koyama and Skyview junior Owen Pritchard each reached the championship matches in their 4A weight classes.
Noah Koyama, who placed third last year at 113 pounds, couldn’t get past Sunnyside senior Alejandro Fernandez in the 132-pound final. The defending state champion won 9-1 after building a 5-0 lead after two periods.
Pritchard reached the 138-pound championship match with a 19-3 technical fall victory over Mount Si’s Emmett Whitaker.
But one of the state’s best wrestlers at any weight class awaited Pritchard in the championship match. South Kitsap’s Mitchell Neiner, last year’s 126-pound champ, completed a 45-0 season by winning 14-5.
Ford, Steinbach place second in Class 3A
Prairie senior Alex Ford’s quest for a second state championship fell short in the Class 3A 170-pound championship match. There, last season’s 160-pound champion was pinned by top-ranked Ezekiel McEwen of Capital.
That capped a season in which Ford came on strong late. After missing the start of the season with a knee injury, Ford won district and regional titles.
Heritage senior Austin Steinbach completed an impressive season with a runner-up finish at 285 pounds. Wrestling at the lower end of the weight class, Steinbach finished the season 34-2 after not placing at Mat Classic last year.
Saturday, Steinbach reached the title match with a 14-5 semifinal win over Yelm’s Jonah Smith. But North Thurston’s Aidan Anderson prevailed in the first period, finishing a tournament in which he won each match by pin.