It’s a different room without two-time 4A state, two-time Tri-State champion Hunter Cruz and the Moses Lake Chiefs are still looking for an identity.
Who they are is a constant reminder with the banners in the gym and the record boards in the room, but what they are is yet to be determined.
“I think we have to decide what we are. Are we going to be mediocre, and mediocre I mean Top 10, or do we want to do what it takes to get to the podium,” said Jaime Garza, who was a part of three state championship teams for Moses Lake and won an individual championship in 1998.
By the podium, he means the top shelf, and last week’s dual with No. 5-ranked Sunnyside was a blip on the radar that the 18-time 4A state champions have work to do. The heart was there, it just lacked that Hunter Cruz swag. Garza had to reel his NCAA Division I recruit over the course of his career, but somewhere in his wrestling passion I suspect Garza knows the Chiefs need that brashness.
The current lineup has just four seniors with no real over-the-top leader. The fact there are seven sophomores says the future is bright. It’s the here and now that will determine their Mat Classic destiny. Who steps to the forefront doesn’t necessarily have to be a senior, just a game changer that throws that fuel on the fire.
It’s not that they wrestled horrific against No. 5 Sunnyside. There was probably a combined 20 seconds where things could have come out differently — win rather than lose two overtime matches, keep a technical fall to a major decision in the early going, wrestle CJ Balderas at 106 instead of Melanie Flores against top-ranked Elijah Barajas. To Flores’ credit, she stayed off her back, and gave up tech fall points instead of six.
Despite all that, losing five of the first six matches, the Chiefs had a shot to derail Sunnyside in front of a capacity crowd with a defining moment. Senior Riley Burgess pinned Sam Guerrero to put them within 10 with three matches left with the heart and soul of the lineup coming to bat in No. 3-ranked Jonathan Tanguma (120) and No. 8 Maximus Zamora (132).
They needed to win the last three, one of them with bonus points. It didn’t happen, but that’s not to say it was because of lack of effort. The three sophomores — Tanguma, Hunter White (126), and Zamora — stepped into the circle and let ‘er buck, they just didn’t make it to the whistle.
To tell you the truth, I would suspect the leadership base Garza is looking for is in that trio of sophomores.
But let’s face it, Moses Lake is less concerned about hanging Columbia Basin Big Nine banners on the wall than it is state championships. What happens before Tri-State, stays before Tri-State.
But it is gut check time and the work between now and the holiday break will determine whether it’s mediocrity or greatness in the Dome.