Mind over matter describes the use of willpower to persevere in the face of physical adversity. The phenomenon has enabled people to do incredible—sometimes seemingly superhuman—things. And it certainly aided the Quince Orchard High School wrestling team’s injury-riddled contingent at the Class 4A/3A West Region and state championships, held Feb. 24-25 and March 3-4, respectively.
The top four finishers in each weight class at regionals advanced to the state meet, and the Cougars had four athletes qualify for the season-ending competition. Crosstown rival Northwest sent five athletes to states and senior Khalil Owens finished runner-up in the 170-pound weight class.
“It’s a big deal to get to states; it means you’re in the top four in your region,” Quince Orchard Coach Rob Wolf said. “Then it’s about trying to finish top six and get on the podium.”
Quince Orchard junior Alejandro Lopez, who lost to eventual state champion Scott Obendorfer (Damascus) in the county semifinals, missed the 2016 postseason due to shoulder surgery and had his sights on a state title. But the week of regionals, the cerebral grappler’s knee locked during a practice session at Georgetown Prep and he laid on the mat, admittedly crying out in pain, unable to move.
“Georgetown Prep has a really good athletic trainer and he was able to look at my knee and told me that there was no damage but that my IT band was messed up and I probably needed physical therapy,” Lopez said.
Lopez was unable to practice the rest of the week, but made weight (132 lbs) for regionals where he won three out of four matches to finish third. Still far from 100 percent, Lopez won four matches at the state meet—two of them in the consolation rounds after falling to Obendorfer again in a close semifinal bout—to clinch third.
“That was definitely the first time I was in such a high-level tournament with so much competition,” said Lopez, who finished with a team-high 39 wins. “It was a great experience and made me realize I’m up there with a lot of those guys. I’m going to compete a lot in the offseason and try to compete against the top guys from other states, and go for the title next year.”
Senior Alec Falconer, who missed his freshman and sophomore wrestling seasons for separate anterior cruciate ligament tears to his left knee, won 29 matches and reached the county and region finals this winter despite soreness to his right knee. The week of states he was told he had torn the ACL in his “good” knee. But Falconer decided if he could walk, he could wrestle, knowing he was scheduled for surgery and could do no further damage. Ultimately, he fell in the second round to the eventual runner-up.
“His first match at states was one of the best matches I’ve seen him wrestle, and that’s just a testament to his mental toughness,” Wolf said. “He just blocked out the pain.”
After undergoing shoulder surgery over the summer, senior Bret Williams, the Cougars’ only returning state qualifier, was unsure he would be wrestling at all this season. But he was determined to get back on the mats. Williams wasn’t cleared to compete until January—missing six weeks of conditioning and competition—but won 11 of 13 matches to close out the regular season. He then followed up a third-place finish at counties with a win at regionals, before falling in the state quarterfinal.
Sophomore wrestler Jose Echeona’s 36 wins this season were second to Lopez and combined with 28 victories his freshman year, he’s on pace to be one of Quince Orchard’s winningest wrestlers of all-time, Wolf said. Competing in arguably the deepest weight class (106 lbs) at states, Echeona, who finished third at regionals, lost his first two matches at states but, Wolf said, was motivated by the experience.
Owens was the only Jaguar to place at states, but junior Yonas Harris (one) and freshman Siavash Sarvestani (two) won at least one match. With those two plus state qualifier Luke Patterson slated to return next season, Northwest appears to be poised for another successful winter in 2017-18. Senior Adam Goodman was the Jaguars’ fifth state qualifier.
“A lot of times when you set your team goals, you set them based off the previous year,” Vukovich said. “We had a 12-win season and that’s big. As far as I’m concerned, it’s either better yourself or bust. The pressure is on, but we’re used to that. This program has been one of the better programs in the region and county the last decade.”