Lake Washington’s Ryan Watson finally made it to the big show — the Mat Classic XXXII state wrestling tournament.
When the Kang senior stepped into the Tacoma Dome to grapple for the first time on Feb. 21, he was ready to put his skills to the test against some of the top 3A athletes in the state.
When all was said and done on Feb. 22, Watson stood in sixth place at 145 pounds and Kang junior Faris Khilfeh grabbed sixth as well at 220 pounds. Both wrestlers finished 3-3 during their two-day journey.
“There were a lot of really tough guys there, but overall I’m pretty proud with how I did,” said Watson, who won his first match against higher-ranked Jesus Cabadas of Marysville Getchell (fall at 4:46) and then lost to eventual state champ Ky Haney of Mount Spokane (fall at 1:59).
Watson noted about starting the trek with a win: “It was a huge confidence booster. It really takes getting on the mat and getting a win to really feel like, ‘Yeah, I belong here with these guys.’”
As the tourney progressed, Watson beat Michael Laudermilk of Chief Sealth (10-3) and Kody Carpenter of Shorewood (11-8) before losing a pair of matches to take sixth. It was Watson’s third win in four meetings against Carpenter this season. He lost to Howie Hare of Edmonds Woodway for fifth/sixth (6-5), a huge improvement from a 12-0 loss to Hare for first/second at sub-regionals.
“I was really excited with how I improved throughout the season, especially the second half of the season,” said Watson, who took third a regionals. “I was able to become a lot more technical of a wrestler as the season went on and a lot more calculated as opposed to just trying to be aggressive.”
Watson looked for the right opportunities to attack his foe and was more effective at taking shots. This helped him provide solid defense each time out.
Watson was thrilled to make a mark at state during his final year with the Kang program.
“It kind of felt like a redemption story, ‘cause last year I was doing really well and then I broke my hand in January, so that’s why I wasn’t able to finish the season,” he said.
Over at 220, LW’s Khilfeh entered the Dome as a two-time state wrestler. Last year, he went two and out at 195 pounds, but remained in the game much longer this time out.
He also beat a Marysville Getchell grappler, Erick Duenes, in his opening match (fall at 4:36) before losing to Cameron Dubose of Yelm (5-1).
“It was pretty interesting, definitely ups and downs,” Khilfeh said of the tournament, during which his headgear was broken mid-match against Duenes.
Khilfeh — who took first at regionals and second at sub-regionals — rebounded from his quarterfinal loss to win two consecutive matches against Owen Patterson of Bethell (10-8) and Tyler Dallas of Mount Spokane (fall at 1:49). In the back-and-forth match against Patterson, Khilfeh trailed by two points before notching a takedown to force overtime; the Kang snagged the victory with another takedown in the extra period.
Although he finished the tournament with losses to Sam Cadenas of Hermiston (6-0) and Chayc Ottum of Kennewick (5-4), Khilfeh reeled in vital confidence to elevate his wrestling next season. He’d like to train in the offseason with a club to be in top form when prep action rolls around.
Khilfeh, who’s the third wrestler in his family to compete at LW, unleashed more of an aggressive mindset on the mat this season.
“Last year and my freshman year, I was more of a defensive player, I’d wait for a guy to shoot on me or something like that, and then I’d counter him. But now, I wanna wrestle my match, I wanna work my moves, instead waiting (for) him to make the move,” he said.
Growing up in a wrestling household, Khilfeh joked that there was always some pushing and shoving happening, and “a lot of broken furniture.” That horsing around has ultimately shaped Khilfeh into a fixture on the Mat Classic scene.