East Valley wrestling coach Craig Hanson says sophomore Justin Walker is a young man of few words.
Last week, his actions spoke volumes.
Wrestling against two returning State AAA placers, Walker beat both.
“Talk about a week that could have destroyed a lot of kids,” said Hanson. “He came out of it like it was no big deal.”
Walker, he said, is straight-forward and unassuming. Someone who does not call attention to himself.
Last week, however, he had attention thrust upon him.
In his season-opening match, Walker beat Shane Cunanan of Central Valley, who placed third in last year’s State AAA tournament, 5-2.
At the Deer Park Invitational, Walker won four times, including 6-5 over Mead State AAA runnerup Jon Rugan for the 115-pound championship.
It was a weight class that featured six state tournament veterans.
Typical of Walker, his reaction was tempered.
“I was pretty confident I could beat both guys,” he said. “It was exciting at the time. Now I have to get past that and work harder in the weeks to come.”
That Walker beat two talented and experienced wrestlers shouldn’t have been entirely surprising. A soccer player, he came into the season in good shape.
As a freshman he overcame an early injury and worked his way out of a pack of four 108-pounders to be EV’s No. 1 wrestler by league and second-seed into district.
Walker also finished third in two invitational tournaments and in the post-season was third in district and fourth at regional to qualify for state.
“The seniors and juniors took me to the top of the Tacoma Dome. I saw the mats and how big it was,” said Walker, who subsequently lost two straight matches. “It didn’t effect the way I wrestled. I knew it was a learning experience.”
So was last summer’s trip to the Jay Robinson Wrestling Camp in Oregon, which might have helped Walker start this season with a bang.
He had five straight victories last week.
At Deer Park, Walker also defeated state veteran Adrian Bojourkes of Riverside then a Hermiston, Ore., wrestler, the tourney’s third-place finisher, in the semifinals.
Cunanan, he said, gave him tips about how to wrestle Rugan.
“He told me what Jon likes to use,” said Walker. “I was nervous at first but as the match went on could tell I could keep up with him.”
The keys to Walker’s early success, said Hanson, are his conditioning and solid defensive technique.
“He’s not scoring major points, but people aren’t scoring on him,” said the first-year coach.
Walker said the wins are part of long-range goals that include a pair of state championships by the time he graduates.
“To be honest, you usually don’t predict that as a sophomore,” said Hanson. “Obviously, he’s legit.”