Mat Classic: XXVI: Yelm wrestler pinning his hopes on perfect season

Haunted by a loss last year, Darren Harris has won all 31 matches by pins and is the favorite to win Class 4A title at 120 pounds

mwochnick@theolympian.comFebruary 21, 2014 

YELM — Brian Rochester calls Darren Harris one of his best friends, and has known the Yelm High School junior since age 9.

He says Harris’ competitiveness — “he doesn’t mess around,” Rochester said — hasn’t changed much since he they were youngsters. Rochester knows firsthand the magnitude of Harris’ accomplishments this season.

“He’s doing one of the greatest things that’s ever been going on at the high school,” said Rochester, a sophomore.

Rochester is right. He would know; he and Harris are practice partners despite a 12-pound weight class difference.

At 120 pounds, Harris is a clear-cut favorite to win the Class 4A state title at this weekend’s Mat Classic XXVI at the Tacoma Dome. What has motivated him to a perfect 31-0 season record — winning all matches by pins, no less — are the vivid details of last February’s 113-pound 4A title match, the result of which was a loss to Edmonds-Woodway’s Noah Cuzzetto, who now wrestles at Lake Stevens.

Harris doesn’t short-change the details: He had a 4-0 lead just 35 seconds into the match, only to get caught in a cradle midway through the second round and was pinned by Cuzzetto in 3:09. A state champion at 103 pounds as a freshman, Harris was stunned and devastated by the defeat.

“I learned don’t let your guard down,” Harris said. “It was killing me.”

The loss fueled his 2014 mission: pin every opponent.

With 31 pins, he broke Patrick Benson’s single-season school record for pins (30) at last weekend’s 4A Region I meet at Central Kitsap. He had pins of 1:00 and 1:02 before pinning Cascade of Everett’s David Garcia at the 2:33 mark of the 120-pound regional final.

Benson, who graduated from Yelm in 2010, was a four-time state placer and finished third at 140 pounds as a senior.

Harris says he’s a changed wrestler from the one who lost at Mat Classic a year ago, with his on-mat training and mental edge better than ever. He said he focuses on keeping a constant pace and “when I get a chance to pin, I pin now.”

“That became a little goal for me,” Harris said. “I’m not taking any chances.”

Harris’ career record is 90-7 with 83 pins. It’s a feat even longtime Tornados wrestling coach Gaylord Strand calls unbelievable.

“Coaches just don’t get that kind of kid,” Strand said. “You’re lucky if you get a kid like that. It’s amazing — and I have one more year with him.”

Rochester, a 132-pounder who is making his second straight appearance at Mat Classic, says Harris as “untouchable” and wrestles mistake-free.

“There’s nothing he does bad, really,” Rochester said. “If you go for a shot, he’s ready for it, and if he takes a shot, he’s going to finish it. It’s hard to wrestle him. You try to think what he’s going to do sometimes, and he’s really unpredictable.”

Untouchable and unpredictable. That’s Harris, who is counting down on what could be a perfect season come Saturday night.

“Four more is all I need,” he said.

Said Strand: “He can do it, and if he doesn’t, I’ll still be happy.”

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/ southsoundsports

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