Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Peninsula Daily News
FORKS — Forks wrestling coach Bob Wheeler thought Miguel Morales always was going to be a basketball player.
Wheeler had Morales in his physical education classes at Forks Middle School, and tried for years to convince Morales to switch from hoops to wrestling, but was unsuccessful.
“I knew just from looking at him [that he would be good],” Wheeler said.
When Morales told Wheeler prior to this season that he was going to wrestle, the coach was skeptical.
But Morales did, and despite being only a sophomore and not having any previous wrestling experience, he went 36-4 on the season and finished second at the state meet in the 1A heavyweight division.
“In all these years I’ve done this, I don’t think I’ve seen that,” Wheeler said of Morales’ quick success.
Morales also has been selected as the 2012-13 All-Peninsula Wrestling MVP.
“I caught on quick,” Morales said.
Team lobby effort
He said the persistence of other Forks wrestlers — particularly Joel Ward, who placed third at state in the 220-pound division this year — finally convinced him to give wrestling a try.
Meanwhile, a deal Morales made with friend Dimitri Sampson’s family before the season gave him extra incentive to do well: If Morales made it to state, Sampson could do like Morales and switch from basketball to wrestling.
(Morales said Sampson probably will still play basketball next year, so he can play alongside older brother Ollie in his senior season.)
Morales opened the season by beating Port Angeles senior Michael Myers, who placed eighth at state in the 2A heavyweight classification in 2012.
Wheeler didn’t know what to make of it — was it beginner’s luck by Morales? Or maybe Myers was out of shape?
Morales continued to do well, but Wheeler remained skeptical.
In fact, he had Morales wrestle at a JV meet early in the season, which drew the ire of an opposing coach.
Wheeler’s response was simple: “He had never wrestled, plus he’s an underclassman. Of course he is going to wrestle at JV.”
More success followed, and Wheeler was finally convinced.
“He definitely surprised me right from the start, but it took a while for me to figure him out,” Wheeler said.
“He definitely showed himself to be for real.”
Morales worked hard at wrestling from the beginning.
“He’s not afraid of hard work,” Wheeler said.
He also has a combination of athleticism, stamina and patience.
“He is a very good athlete,” Wheeler said. “He’s not as big as other heavyweights, but he’s just as strong.
“He’s quicker than any heavyweight. Nobody could keep up with him. He could just keep going.”
Wheeler added that Morales didn’t lose his composure or become overly aggressive in his pursuit of points, even when the score was close.
“He’s very good about being patient. He’s OK with it being only a one-point match,” Wheeler said.
“He doesn’t try to force things. He waits for his spot.”
Morales began matches by testing his opponents.
“I would work them,” he said. “See how strong they were; see if they were going to go all three rounds, or if I could beat them before [then].”
In the state semifinal round, Morales faced Jeremiah Atkins of Zillah, a senior who had been ranked in the top-three all season, and who the year before placed sixth at state.
Atkins led 1-0 for most of the match.
But Morales maintained his composure to tie the match, and then pinned Atkins with less than a minute left in the third round.
Morales pinned all three of his opponents on his path to the state championship round, where he finally met his match.
Cody Zyph of Kiona-Benton was athletic enough to keep up with Morales, and more technically skilled.
Morales knew Zyph couldn’t pin him, but Zyph did have more ways to score points, and won 15-5 to claim the state title.
Morales might have been too patient.
He said he was hesitant to attempt any big, but risky, moves that might have enabled him to pin Zyph.
“He had a lot more experience,” Morales said. “I still got a lot to learn.”
Unfortunately for the rest of the state’s heavyweights, Morales has two more years to add more technical skill to his natural ability.
“We will add a few moves, but I don’t know if we have to add a whole lot,” Wheeler said.
“We can always add more.”