OTHELLO — The circle is what they have in common. It’s continuous, no beginning, no end.
On one side there was the legend wearing his Washington Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame jacket, returning to the gym where he coached for 20 years (2004-2013). The two 2A state championship banners were his teams.
He had 16 individual state champions in his time.
On the other side sat his protege, still working hard for his first championship team even though his room produced two state champions apiece the past two seasons.
But the final match of the day wasn’t about longtime Othello coach Ruben Martinez, who is now in his first season at Royal or Rudy Ochoa II.
It was about the gladiators who stepped into the circle to wrestle for the 285-pound championship at the 20-team Leonard Schutte Invitational at PJ Taggares Gymnasium on Saturday.
Unbeaten and top-seeded Othello junior Isaiah Perez is the top-ranked heavyweight in the state in all classifications. No. 2 seed Ryder Eilers of Royal was looking for a breakout match and what better place than Taggares Gym at the Schutte?
Perez hadn’t gone past the first period since the season started. He pinned Damon Peace of Clarkston in 20 seconds in the semifinals. The Royal senior is the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the 1A ranks. None of that much mattered when the whistle blew - one circle, two gladiators, one outcome.
There was a bit of stunned silence when Eilers got the takedown and took Perez to his back in the first period. Neither coach so much a flinched, but they did rock forward a little bit in anticipation. Perez, experienced, unwavering after his epic battle with Cy Hicks of Tumwater to win the 2A state championship last season, worked his way free. It was a phenomenal task really considering Eilers’ brute strength.
For the first time in an Isaiah Perez match this season, the towel girl had to run out and let the referee know the first period had ended. Yeah, Eilers not on survived the first period, he stood toe-to-toe with the best heavyweight in the state. Perez systematically broke him down, his style and tenacity is like a great anaconda devouring its prey. Legs scissor locked, arms twisting the upper torso, Perez turned the Royal senior for the pin and claim the championship to help the Huskies win their third consecutive Leonard Schutte Invite.
“He was a lot stronger than I expected. He was really strong, but the match is never over ‘til it’s over. I just stayed calm (when I went to my back) and kept working,” Perez said. “I kind of like the challenge. It was a good match.”
Martinez was all smiles afterwards, shaking Perez’s hand acknowledging a job well done for a young man he’s known for years. His guy showed some spit and vinegar.
“We’re trying to change the culture at Royal and develop that attitude that you expect to win when you step on the mat no matter who you wrestle,” he said. “Ryder went out there expecting to win and he almost did. We’re proud of him and think this did a lot for the younger kids watching, seeing what hard work can do.”
Said Eilers, “I was a little nervous (before the match), but I walked around and got my mind cleared,” he said. “I got the take down and took him to his back, but he muscled through and outskilled me.
“But what I take forward is that anything can happen as long as you give it your best.”
Othello put seven wrestlers in the finals and crowned Josiah Barrera (113), Jaxon Rocha (138), Easton Roylance (170) and Perez (285).
Royal finished 12th with seven placers, including Eilers at 285. Dominic Martinez (126) finished third, Clinton Garnick (152) and placed fourth. Daniel Bonilla (160), Kiko Gonzalez (195) and Kevin Dominguez (220) were all fifth.