Eyes on the prize: Eastside duo targets state wrestling titles

When CJ Danforth stepped onto the Eastside Catholic mat his freshman year he weighed just 86 pounds and had zero wrestling experience — a long way from a dream of a state championship.

When CJ Danforth stepped onto the Eastside Catholic mat his freshman year he weighed just 86 pounds and had zero wrestling experience — a long way from a dream of a state championship.

Teammate AJ Hostak was the polar opposite. From age 6, Hostak achieved high levels of success in the youth ranks. He entered the 2006 state tournament as a freshman with a 38-0 record, before succumbing to a broken thumb and losing in the first round. He eventually finished fourth in the 103-pound division.

Fast forward four years, and the Crusader seniors face an intriguing scenario — one that could result in both nabbing their first state championships.

“These two are very impressive,” said head coach Dennis Reddinger, referring to their combined 57-1 record. “It hasn’t been easy competition either. Both of them have been wrestling at the highest level of competition that they could to be prepared for state.”

Hostak, the Region I champion at 130 pounds, enters this weekend’s 2009 Mat Classic ranked No. 1 in the state with a flawless 29-0 record. After his impressive run as a freshman, he didn’t place as a sophomore and took seventh as a junior.

“I’ve been wrestling the past couple of seasons just kind of going along with it — coming off of football, waiting for baseball kind of thing,” Hostak said. “This year I’m a senior and I’ve got to get it done, this could be my last weekend of wrestling.”

Danforth, the Region I champion at 112 pounds, is ranked No. 7 in the state at 28-1, and qualified for his first state tournament. He won the Metro League championship as a sophomore and junior, but only qualified as an alternate for state those years. This season he not only took the Metro title, but won the regional crown — all while battling an injury he suffered in early December.

“I just kind of wanted to be like the dark shadow that came out of nowhere, and kind of surprise,” he said.

So far, he’s done just that. His only loss this season came to a state-ranked 119-pound wrestler. He said hard work in the summer, including a stint at the Washington Intensive camp in Spokane, got him focused.

There’s little doubt, rounding out their careers with state titles would be a remarkable way to finish for Hostak and Danforth — especially for the duo who entered high school together on such different skill levels.

“AJ took CJ under his wing and by the end of his first year CJ was going pretty well,” said David Danforth, assistant coach and CJ’s dad. “Then they both started to help everybody in that room.”

While the two have united the Crusader wrestling team the last three years, they are still different in many ways off the mat. Hostak, who lives in Maple Valley, plays football and baseball. Danforth, who lives in Redmond, plays golf and soccer. Despite their differences, there is no hiding the one common goal they share: a desire to finish their wrestling careers strong.

“It’s in my mind that I’m not going to accept anything less than No. 1,” Hostak said. “Senior year you’ve got to finish on top of the podium, so that’s what I’ve got to go in there with and make it happen.”

Danforth’s confidence also is soaring high before his first state competition.

“There will be the first time butterflies in my stomach, but I know I can beat most of the kids out there in my bracket,” he said. “Everybody that’s in state deserves to be there. It’s just whoever brings their ‘A’ game.”

Eastside Catholic only has one state champion in its history. There is hope that will change on Saturday.

“We’re going to try and triple it in one day,” Reddinger said.