What is the first thing a national champion does after winning a title?
“I went with my friend to Krispy Kreme,” Malakai Nichols, 10, said. “Ben Ng and I went on my birthday.”
If doughnuts are the secret power source for Juneau Youth Wrestling Club’s achievements, then expect every athlete within the City & Borough of Juneau to get addicted.
Nichols and Camden Erickson, also 10, each won national age group wrestling titles at the 2013 ASICS/USAW Kids Freestyle and Greco Roman National Championships in Orem, Utah recently.
“I felt good,” Nichols said of the achievement. “Awesome. I like wrestling because you get to travel and meet new friends and have fun.”
Erickson said he was in disbelief.
“I had worked so hard,” Erickson said. “I could not even believe myself. I was in shock basically. When I won I was like, ‘Did I really just do that?’”
Members of the JYWC Tornados, Nichols and Erickson, and teammates Jahrease Mays (age 11), Dominic McDonald-Cox (11), Nathanial Houston (10) and Ben Ng (11) qualified for nationals by battling through the 2013 Western Kids Regionals in Pocatello, Idaho in June.
Nichols, wrestling for his fifth year, said his favorite discipline is Greco Roman.
“You don’t really have to shoot for the legs,” Nichols said. “You use your arms and all that stuff.”
Nichols said his favorite move was an arm-drag, which involves holding the opponent’s head and arm, placing his right leg back and using all his weight to pull the opponent down.
“It is kind of like a hip throw,” Nichols said.
Erickson said the hardest part was all the conditioning for regionals.
“We did a lot of sprints,” Erickson said. “That was one of the most challenging parts, but fun.”
Erickson favors one of wrestling’s most lethal holds.
“My favorite pinning combination is the cross-face cradle,” Erickson said. “I have quite a few but that is my favorite. It is a little painful.”
At the Idaho Western Regional Tournament, in Greco Roman, Erickson placed first in the Intermediate 120-pound class, Nichols placed first (Intermediate 103) and Houston (Intermediate 65), Mays (Novice 70), McDonald-Cox (Novice 75) and Ng (Novice 120) all competed.
In Folkstyle, Erickson placed first, Nichols placed fourth, Ng placed sixth, and Mays, McDonald-Cox, and Houston all competed.
In Freestyle, Erickson placed first, Nichols second, Ng sixth, and Mays, Houston and McDonald-Cox competed.
At nationals in Utah, Erickson and Nichols each took first place in Greco, Ng placed fifth and Houston, Mays and McDonald-Cox all competed.
In the nationals Freestyle, Erickson took first, Nichols second, Ng fifth and Houston, Mays and McDonald-Cox all competed.
“I should have listened to my coach, and not tied my opponent up,” Nichols said of his title loss. “He said not to tie up because my opponent knew I was going to do an arm throw.”
Coaches for the team were Josh Houston and Warren Mays.
“Malachi seemed to have the jitters in the first tournament,” Houston said.” He didn’t do so well in that tournament but then it clicked for him. He ended up taking first the next day during the Greco tournament and continued to dominate his brackets for freestyle and at nationals. It was like he was two different kids and once he was comfortable there he just kept winning.”
Erickson struggled finding competition that was his own weight and age during the season and at regionals, meaning a lot of his matches were exhibitions that required he bumped up in weight classes.
“He went down south trying to find that even competition he’d been waiting for,” Houston said. “At nationals he finally found competition his age and weight. Camden did go out a little nervous in his first regulation match but then calmed down and won.”
Mays is one of the JYWC vets who attended last year’s tournaments and did well.
He moved up an age division this year and saw some new faces and familiar ones in front of him on the mat.
“Jahrease wrestled like the top level competitor that he is,” Houston said. “Barely missing the podium in all his tournaments. Quite honestly I would say he probably had the biggest talent pool in his brackets. The fact that Jahrease is able to stay in there and be competitive with them as a first year novice says a lot about his abilities.”
McDonald-Cox had more opponents in his brackets than any other.
“Dominick faced a hard road down there,” Houston said. “He’s right in the middle of weights for his age and his brackets showed it. I believe one of his brackets had 49 kids in it. This was Dominick’s first year of organized wrestling and competition. He went down and won several matches and looked like a seasoned wrestler.”
Ng also was a regional and national wrestler last year and moved up a weight division this season.
“Ben had to face the challenges of moving up an age division,” Houston said. “Every time a kid moves up the competition gets better and stronger. I think Ben like all our first year novice guys understood that this year would be a difficult challenge and a building year for them to come back stronger next year.”
Nate Houston went to the tournament with no expectations other than to get the experience of top-level competition.
“As his father, my expectation of him is the same as my expectation as a coach of the other kids, to wrestle 100 percent every second of the match,” Josh Houston said. “That is exactly what Nate did. He was in the biggest brackets for the intermediate age division and faced kids way more qualified that him. Nate came down with a positive attitude, wrestled to his full potential and came away with a couple of wins over some highly ranked competitors. I can be proud of his accomplishments down there not only as his father but as a coach, too.”
Mat time and experience is a key to making better wrestlers. All six of these grapplers will be wrestling at Floyd Dryden Middle School next season. The school allows fifth graders in the program.
And beyond that?
“We all want to go to the Olympics and wrestle,” Nichols said. “I also like basketball and baseball.”
Erickson has similar aspirations.
“Of course I would like to make the Olympics,” Erickson said. “And NCAA college. I would like to go to Stanford and wrestle for them. That is one of my goals. I like to play football and soccer and to hunt and fish also.”
Nichols said his favorite pre-match food is not Krispy Kreme, but Gatorade chews. Erickson has similar tastes.
“I might say bacon,” Erickson laughed. “I like Gatorade and PowerAde before matches. I don’t really eat a lot before.”