Matt Iwicki is Crusaders’ iron man on the mats

January 7, 2014

By Neil Pierson

There was a time when Matt Iwicki wasn’t one of the best wrestlers in the state, when he didn’t have a target on his back, when he didn’t even have much success.

Iwicki began wrestling in first grade at the urging of his father, Matt Iwicki Sr., a former wrestler. The first year was tough on Iwicki – he didn’t win many matches – but he didn’t let it derail him.

Eastside Catholic School wrestler Matt Iwicki is gunning for a second straight state championship this winter. He’s currently the top-ranked Class 3A wrestler at 132 pounds. Photo by Neil Pierson

Eastside Catholic School wrestler Matt Iwicki is gunning for a second straight state championship this winter. He’s currently the top-ranked Class 3A wrestler at 132 pounds. Photo by Neil Pierson

“As I started practicing more and I started having more fun, I started winning more,” Iwicki, a Sammamish resident, said. “Then I did different styles – I did freestyle and Greco (Roman) in the offseason, and that got me a lot better. And by my third or fourth year, I started winning most of my matches, and really started getting to the next level.”

These days, signs of success follow Iwicki wherever he goes. A blue and orange banner hangs in the mat room at Eastside Catholic School, commemorating his state title at 120 pounds last February, the first championship for a Crusader in 27 years.

With his junior season nearly halfway over, Iwicki is the Washington Wrestling Report’s top-ranked Class 3A athlete at 132 pounds. That, of course, means a high amount of visibility, with opponents constantly seeking to knock him off his pedestal.

He’s handling the attention well. At the prestigious Tri-State Tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last month, he finished fourth in a grueling 64-man bracket at 138 pounds, where he figures to compete until the postseason.

“He’s been wrestling at 138 all season, but he’s been very close to being at 132,” said Dennis Reddinger, Eastside Catholic’s coach. “Through the holidays and stuff, it’s a little bit easier on his body to stay up and let him eat a little bit more, relax.”

Before he became a state champion, Iwicki proved he could handle high-pressure situations. As a seventh-grader, he won a Greco-Roman title and placed second in freestyle at the USA Wrestling National Championships.

He went on to claim third place as a freshman 113-pounder at the Mat Classic state championships, then cemented his legacy among Eastside Catholic’s best by winning the 120-pound crown with a 5-0 victory over Mount Spokane’s Kiegen Schauer.

Iwicki said he didn’t necessarily expect to win the title, but he was shooting for it after his successful freshman campaign.

“It was almost like a great sense of relief, especially in the finals after I had won,” he said, “because I had gotten so close and I didn’t really want to lose in that final match.”

By the time he’s finished at Eastside Catholic, Iwicki could find himself in rarified air. His ultimate goal is to become a three-time state champion, a feat only 80 boys and girls have accomplished in Washington since 1966.

Reddinger said Iwicki is “built like a wrestler,” and his natural abilities in the sport, coupled with the long hours and sweat equity he puts in, make it possible for him to reach such a lofty goal.

“He’s a fast learner,” Reddinger said. “He’s determined, he works hard, he knows that it takes a lot of work to be the best, so he’s always trying to improve himself.”

For Iwicki to get his second title, he may have to navigate a talented and veteran class at 132 pounds.

He’s familiar with Bonney Lake’s Colton Tracy, who’s ranked second and beat Iwicki in the state semifinals two years ago. He’s also previously competed against third-ranked Tyler Wicken of Kelso.

Iwicki’s performance at Tri-State was encouraging.

“That’s always a tough tournament,” he said. “I got seventh last year, and I still got first in state, so hopefully getting fourth is a good sign.”

While he credits Reddinger and his father for being his most influential supporters, Iwicki is aware he’s ultimately responsible for preparing himself for competitions and getting the desired results.

“It’s definitely mostly about you, because you’re the one out there wrestling on the mat; no one else is really helping you win,” he said. “You’ve got to force yourself and compel yourself to get better so you can win more on your own. Your coaches can only help you so much.”

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