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WRESTLING: Navejas pins down national title
In February, he conquered the state on the wrestling mat.
Now, Kentwood star Ruben Navejas has conquered the nation.
During the USA Wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman national tournament held at the Fargodome from July 18-25, nobody in the junior 98-pound weight class was better than Navejas. The Kentwood flyweight, who won the 103-pound state title in February, won six matches on the freestyle circuit, culminating with a 0-2, 1-0, 4-1 win over Maxwell Soria of New York.
The win is a big achievement, Navejas said.
“I think it is bigger than the state tournament because you’re facing multiple state champs from multiple states,” he said. “At state, I see guys I’m going to wrestle during the season. At nationals, it’s a blind draw.”
Not just a blind draw, but a draw that essentially consists of the best wrestlers from around the nation. Just to qualify for the tournament, wrestlers must have placed among the top three at state or regionals.
Navejas won state Greco Roman and freestyle titles in May to earn the berth to the national tournament. Adding to the difficulty level is the fact that he was competing in a 28-man bracket. During the high school state tournament, brackets consist of 16 wrestlers.
“I was definitely more excited about this than state,” said Navejas, who will be a junior in the fall.
Days before winning the freestyle national title, he earned a silver medal at the junior Greco-Roman national tournament, also held at the Fargodome in North Dakota.
Unlike the prep circuit, however, different rules apply for the national tournament. Instead of having to beat an opponent during a three-round match, as it is during the high school season, wrestlers at nationals must defeat opponents in two of three rounds. Until dropping one round in his final match against Soria, Navejas had won every round of each one of his previous five matches. He opened the tournament by handling Arizona’s Luiz Lechuga 6-0 in the first round, then pinning him in 47 seconds in the second. Navejas followed with a 7-0, 7-0 win over Christopher Dean of Oregon. He continued the scoreless run in his third match, blanking Kyle Pillars of Michigan 6-0, 6-0 before working over Joey Moita of California 6-0, 6-1. Navejas then thumped Jordan Wigger of South Carolina in the quarterfinals, 6-0, 6-0, then knocked off Kevon Powell of Illinois in the semifinals, 1-0, 4-0.
“I was expecting to place high this year,” Navejas said.
Last year, competing as a cadet, Navejas took fifth in the Greco-Roman tournament and third in freestyle.
“To me, this is a defining moment in his wrestling career,” said Ruben’s dad, Ruben Navejas sr. “It’s a very intense tournament.”
Though the prep season remains several months away, Navejas’ training will continue. During the offseason, he’s in the wrestling room for two hours a day at least twice a week and runs at least three miles each day. Navejas currently weighs 108 pounds and hopes to compete at 103 again in the winter.
For now, however, he’s going to take a few moments to enjoy the title.
“This was a really big win for me,” he said.