Matt Iwicki was worn out.
The 12-year-old Sammamish resident had just defeated six elite freestyle wrestlers at the USA Wrestling Western Regionals June 27 in Pocatello, Idaho — his highest finish ever. On top of fatigue, he was nursing a broken right middle finger.
With the USA Wrestling National tournament beginning four days later, July 1, Iwicki was left at a crossroads — should he go, or not?
“I was just kind of tired after the week, and I felt that third in regionals was a good accomplishment, that I might stop there,” he said.
Attending the first day of World Champion Sammie Henson’s camp at Skyline High School, and a sit-down with the man himself, was all it took for Matt to make up his mind.
“He’s a good role model …,” Matt said. “He just told me to go to Nationals because I would do really good, and it was a nice chance, and I might not get that chance again soon.”
The advice from the 1998 World Champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist was not taken lightly. The next day Matt and his dad were on a plane to Orem, Utah to join the 27 other members of Team Washington, and 504 of the top wrestlers from all corners of the country.
Matt, who will be a seventh grader at Eastside Catholic Middle School this fall, took care of business from there. He won his first match in the 84-pound division over a top wrestler from Alaska. He lost a pair of matches to the Wisconsin and Idaho state champions, but battled back to get into the seventh-eighth place match where he defeated fellow Team Washington Glen Robertson. His seventh-place medal netted him All-American status, as the top eight placers earn the honor.
“It was really cool,” Matt said. “I got to see some new people, and it was just pretty overwhelming — just being able to get in that picture when they took it of all the top eight places.”
For his dad, Matt, Sr., his son’s national recognition was an indicator of just how quickly his skills improved this season.
“He’s made some really good progress,” he said. “I think it was better than we expected for this year.”
He noted Matt’s progress picked up during the regular season and was capped off by wins over two of the states top wrestlers on his way to a second place finish in the Washington State Wrestling Association Freestyle State Championship on May 9 in Oak Harbor.
“At that point, we knew he had it going,” Matt, Sr. said.
Without question, hard training got Matt to his current level. He competes with his primary club Eastside Wrestling, but also occasionally trains with the Redmond Bulldogs, the Plateau Pack, USA Everett and the Lynnwood Predators. His schedule results in two to four practices a week. But it doesn’t end there. Matt also plays on the U-13 Issaquah Soccer Club Arsenal.
“He did two state tournaments in one weekend because he had state soccer and state wrestling,” said his mom, Catherine Iwicki.
While his schedule can sometimes be hectic, Matt said he loves every minute of it.
“I really want to keep doing it, it’s really fun,” he said, smiling.