COLUMBIA — No one wants to be good, people want to be perfect.
On Thursday, 26 high school wrestlers started the MSHSAA Wrestling Championships undefeated. On Saturday, 19 wrestlers finished the year undefeated and as state champions. Two wrestlers won their fourth state titles this weekend. Kearney’s Colin Pierce became the 14th wrestler in state history to do so, and Brookfield’s Tyler Holloway became the 15th.
The chase for perfection is not easy. The pressure mounts and undefeated wrestlers lose, usually to large cheers from the crowd.
“There’s a positive and negative, obviously, to being undefeated,” Oak Park coach Gary Mayabb said. “There’s a kid who’s undefeated, and he doesn’t know what defeat is like and comes across as focused to finish, and he’ll usually project that through and finish. Then there’s some kids who say they don’t want to lose. They start wrestling not to win but not to lose.”
Entering the tournament on Thursday, Oak Park senior heavyweight Elijah Madison was a perfect 39-0. He was the favorite to win his first state title. But he lost his first-round match to McCluer junior Wesley Bell 4-2. His perfect season was gone and so was his dream of winning a state title. He finished his high school career without an individual state championship.
“I thought I was a shoe-in to win the title,” Madison said. “I looked past him, then it was over.”
Madison proceeded to win his next four matches to place himself in the third-place match, where he won and finished with a 44-1 record.
“I’m not a state champion, and I’m not perfect, that’s what matters,” Madison said.
For Kearney senior Colin Pierce, the perfect season is nothing new. The last time Pierce lost in high school competition was at the district final his freshman year. To end his career, Pierce won 144-straight matches to finish 169-9. In all, he has four state championships, including 100 pins.
“It feels pretty good,” Pierce said. “I’m glad I got to realize my dream.”
In the championship match Saturday, he walked onto the mat instead of jogging like the rest of the wrestlers. He then got a quick takedown, followed by a cradle and pinned Ozark freshman Ty Loethen with 46 seconds left in the first period. Pierce didn’t do a back flip or hold up four fingers showing he’s the four-time champion. He shook the other coaches’ hands, and jogged off to a standing ovation.
“I just did what I came here to do,” Pierce said.
Mayabb has been pushing his wrestlers toward perfection for 20 years. He was close as he might get when the Northmen won their fifth straight large-class team championship Saturday.
“Sometimes I think perfectionists get a bad name,” Mayabb said. “I think we’d be preferred to be called workaholics.”
The most recent time Mayabb didn’t have a wrestler in the championship match he bought a poster and framed it. That year was 1995. It’s a picture of the half dome at Yosemite National Park, an 850-foot vertical drop. It hangs in his classroom at Oak Park. The half dome represents the climb that he wants all of his kids to make to the championship match. Mayabb had five wrestlers win state titles Saturday and three finished perfect seasons.
“As coaches, we have to affect their speech,” Mayabb said of the perfect wrestlers entering state. “We want them to talk positively and not start talking about not taking chances and wrestling their style.”