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WRESTLING: Kentwood's Navejas caps perfect season with state title at Mat Classic XXIII
Ruben Navejas hit one out of the park Saturday night at the Tacoma Dome.
One of the finest wrestlers to ever come out of Kentwood High, Navejas outmaneuvered and outmuscled Matthew Nguyen 8-3 in the 112-pound championship match of Mat Classic XXIII to bring home his second title in the last three years.
After the final whistle, Navejas stood to his feet, pointed to the home crowd and delivered a celebration that hadn't been seen before under the Tacoma Dome spotlight. The Kentwood senior smiled before tossing up an imaginary baseball and following through with a picture-perfect swing, simulating a home run.
It was a celebration that Navejas learned from close friend Cody Brewer, a 125-pound senior who wrestles for Oak Park High in Missouri. The two have become close in recent years on the national wrestling circuit.
"We always call each other the Knockout Artists because of the way we win," said Navejas, who led the championship match from start to finish. "He capped an undefeated season this year and hit one out of the park. So I wanted to hit one out of the park, too."
While the ball Navejas hit was imaginary, his championship victory and flawless season was very real.
In earning the 8-3 victory, Navejas capped a perfect 42-0 season. Yet, the final record only scratches the surface of what Navejas was able to accomplish in four years at Kentwood. He finished with a 162-7 career mark, which is far and away the best record by any Conqueror wrestler in the school's history. In addition, Navejas also finished his senior season holding the program's all-time mark in nearfalls and takedowns among other statistical categories.
"He holds nearly ever record at Kentwood," said coach Ken Sroka, now in his 14th year. "He's my first wrestler ever to have a perfect season, which is saying something because I've had some pretty good ones."
Navejas became Kentwood's second two-time state champion, the first since Brandon Hunter (2002-2003).
And Navejas did it in about as dominant of fashion as any wrestler to ever take the state mat. Navejas worked over Jacob Wilcox of Spanaway Lake in his opening match, 16-1. He continued the trend in the quarterfinals, pinning Eric Soler of Lake Stevens in 5:17. Navejas advanced to the championship match with a 17-1 throttling of Josh Andrew of Richland. In the two technical-fall victories, the only points Navejas allowed were those in which he cut his opponent free. Navejas didn't allow a point during his pin in the quarterfinals and yielded just two offensive points in the tournament altogether.
After winning the state title as a sophomore, Navejas was a favorite to repeat last year, but fell to Tahoma's Steven Hopkins in the championship match. Saturday's title was as much about getting redemption for the Kentwood wrestler as it was about the perfect season.
After hitting the imaginary home run, Navejas ran into the arms of his dad, Ruben Navejas Sr., who was embraced the Kentwood senior with a bear hug. Moments later, Navejas also received a hug from his sister Antonia, who was a 112-pound state champion in 2007.
"This is a lot better than my sophomore year," said Navejas, who became the school's second four-time medalist. "I wanted it a lot this year. This is the best."
And Saturday at the Tacoma Dome, Navejas was exactly that.