Chiefs have high ceiling entering Mat Classic

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  • Connor Vanderweyst/Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake’s state participants for Mat Classic XXIX. Pictured from left to right in the back row: Daniel Zermeno, Nick Hara, Chandler Fluaitt, Melanie Flores and Payton Castro. Left to right in the front now: Christien Knopp, Riley Burgess (alternate), Hunter Cruz and Daiman Vasquez.

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    Kennady Schlagel/courtesy photo Moses Lake heavyweight Chandler Fluaitt (left) is the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class.

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    Kennady Schlagel/courtesy photo Hunter Cruz (right) goes into Mat Classic XXIX in search of a 152-pound state championship.

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    Kennady Schlagel/courtesy photo After a loss in the regional semifinals, Nick Hara (right) will have to score an upset or two to return to the state finals.

  • Connor Vanderweyst/Columbia Basin Herald Moses Lake’s state participants for Mat Classic XXIX. Pictured from left to right in the back row: Daniel Zermeno, Nick Hara, Chandler Fluaitt, Melanie Flores and Payton Castro. Left to right in the front now: Christien Knopp, Riley Burgess (alternate), Hunter Cruz and Daiman Vasquez.

  • 1

    Kennady Schlagel/courtesy photo Moses Lake heavyweight Chandler Fluaitt (left) is the top-ranked wrestler in his weight class.

  • 2

    Kennady Schlagel/courtesy photo Hunter Cruz (right) goes into Mat Classic XXIX in search of a 152-pound state championship.

  • 3

    Kennady Schlagel/courtesy photo After a loss in the regional semifinals, Nick Hara (right) will have to score an upset or two to return to the state finals.

MOSES LAKE — As long as Jaime Garza has wrestlers in the field Moses Lake is never out of title contention, as far as he’s concerned.

The wheels have already begun to spin. An upset here, an overachiever there and seven-man Moses Lake could sneakily ascend the team standings. With possibly four matches against Tahoma — the top-ranked team — within the first two rounds, there will be an opportunity to inject some chaos into the most unpredictable tournament of the season on Day 1.

“You don’t know what can happen,” Garza said. “The way we line up, we’re wrestling four kids from Tahoma within the first two rounds and that’s huge. Now, we also know there’s Curtis there, but you just don’t know what can happen. When looking at those brackets, I was pleased with our draws. I thought we had some winnable matches in the first, second round and some opportunity to create some huge upsets.”

Moses Lake has a mix of experience and first-year state participants heading to Mat Classic XXIX. Daiman Vasquez, Daniel Zermeno and Christien Knopp will make their first appearance at state on Friday.

Vasquez, who was a state alternate last season, dropped down to the 182-pound division this year and has found tremendous success.

“Just a little bit more experience and changing up the weight class,” he said. “I’m wrestling kids my size.”

The top end of the Moses Lake contingent boasts a 2016 state finalist, two state placers and a state participant.

Nick Hara (132) will make a final run at a state title after finishing second in 2016. After placing third at the regional tournament, Hara’s road became a little more challenging with a possible quarterfinal match-up against top-ranked Nick Whitehead of Tahoma.

“It would be fair to say, if anyone had Nick Hara to wrestle in the quarterfinals they should be worried because Nick is a great wrestler,” Garza said. “He just happened to lose a one-point match in the semifinals of the regional tournament so this is his tournament to go out and bounce back and win four consecutive matches to end his career — nothing better than that.”

Chandler Fluaitt (285) enters the state tournament as the No. 1 heavyweight and has not lost since early January — a much different atmosphere than his 2016 campaign. Last season, Fluaitt surprised the field by advancing to the semifinals before succumbing to state runner-up Dallas Goodpaster of Evergreen 6-4.

Fluaitt, the only returning state placer in the 285-pound weight class, is ready to take advantage of his second opportunity at the Tacoma Dome.

“My mindset is I’m the guy to beat and I’m going to wrestle like it,” he said. “Everyone’s coming for me and I knew I was going to be the top-seeded guy coming in there and everyone’s just got a target on my head. I just embrace it.”

Payton Castro (220) will have a chance to give Moses Lake a big lift on Friday with a first-round match against Mead’s Collin Grosse and a possible quarterfinal match against Tahoma’s Dagen Kramer. The Panthers and the Bears are two teams that will be a factor on Day 2.

The most experienced wrestler, Hunter Cruz (152), benefited from a bracket shakeup as Union’s Tommy Strassenberg was moved to the other side so a possible meeting in the semifinals turned into a possible finals match. Strassenberg is the only wrestler to defeat Cruz this season.

“I rely on him (Cruz) to help some of these younger guys that haven’t been there and to kind of show them the ropes — guide them and lead them — and also take care of the task at hand,” Garza said. “Which is to go out there get into the finals and win a state title.”

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