Wrestling is a tough sport, unique for its 1-on-1 mix of technique and brute force.
So when Castle Rock’s Wayne Baker won a 160-pound 1A state title last year and went undefeated in the regular season, before moving up to 170 pounds for Saturday’s 1A Sub-Regional meet in La Center, it clarified just how far he’s come.
“I actually started wrestling in the first grade but I actually wanted to quit after my first year; I didn’t win a single match,” Baker said. “I hated it; I cried; I was so nervous. My parents said to stick with it — I’d like it. I’m glad I listened.”
A few years later, he drew himself standing on a podium, accepting a state championship trophy. His parents saved it, and it was framed by his mom after the self-fulfilled prophecy last February.
Since then, he’s had a proverbial target on his back, and some evolving goals.
“Coming up, people would always say ‘You have so much potential,’” Baker said. “There’s not really expectations where you can let them down, you’re on the up. But I’m here, my senior year, and I already accomplished something like that. People are like ‘second time this year,’ and I have to live up to that.
“Other kids I used to look up to, like they’re such a good wrestler, look up to me.”
He doesn’t mind it, though, and relishes in the status he’s earned.
“The energy of the Mat Classic is crazy,” he said. “No matter how many people are there to watch you specifically, you’re down there on the mat and see crowds of people all the way around you, cheering. It feels like everyone is watching you. Especially when it’s a 1-on-1 sport like that, you can’t make up excuses after the match.”
Baker made the decision to move up to 170 pounds this postseason, and that present its own unique challenge. A self-described “light 160-pounder,” Baker, ranked No. 3 at 160 among Class 1A wrestlers, is grappling kids who are 10-12 pounds heavier than he is.
After a grueling regular season, Baker is prepared to shoot the challenge of state once more, and looking to win his second consecutive title.
“It was about getting there again,” Baker said. “I did the most work I’ve ever done after I won state, it wasn’t before. I wanted to get there again.”