The wrestler, ranked No. 1 at 182 pounds in Class 3A, found time for the weight room and for a conversation with this teammates and it’s made all the difference.
Liam Ball was intimidated at first. But it had nothing to do with being gay and any worry about what that might mean while surrounded in the weight room by the Meadowdale football team.
It was the weights.
“The amount of weight that they lift is ridiculous,” said Ball in admiration of the team that reached the semifinals of the Class 3A state tournament. “I was subconscious that I couldn’t lift the same kind of weight. I was never a strong kid.”
Mat Classic XXIX
Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome
Follow along: On Twitter, @TimesPrepsMattM, @aaronlommers and @wiaawa
Top story lines: Tahoma brought home the Class 4A Region II tournament team title on the strength of nine individual champions and the Bears pushed through 16 wrestlers to state. The top-ranked Bears have to be considered the favorite to bring home the 4A crown. Curtis of University Place, with 13 qualifiers, appears to be the top challenger to Tahoma, which goes for its first state title since 2012 and fourth overall. ... Senior Dalton Young of Lakeside-Nine Mile Falls is going after his fourth consecutive individual state crown, attempting to join the 13 boys wrestler in the state of Washington to accomplish the feat. The Stanford University commit is 42-0 with 30 pins and 166-0 and 102 pins for his career. ... Senior Clai Quintanilla of North Central of Spokane will vie for his fourth consecutive individual state title at 132 pounds in 3A. Quintanilla can become the first four-time champ from the Greater Spokane League (GSL), bringing a season record of 29-1 — his lone loss an injury default — with 13 pins into state. He owns a career mark of 139-10 with 66 pins entering this weekend.
Top wrestlers: Clai Quintanilla, North Central (Spokane), Sr. (132 pounds in 3A, two-time defending state champion at 126 in 3A in 2016 and 113 in 3A in 2015); Kione Gill, Tahoma (Maple Valley), Jr. (195 in 4A); Brandon Kaylor, Bonney Lake, Jr. (113 in 3A, two-time defending state champ at 106 in 3A); Jake Treece, Enumclaw, Sr. (132 in 4A, state champ at 132 in 3A in 2016); Bryan Wais, North Central (Spokane), Sr. (152 in 3A, state champ at 152 in 3A in 2016); Ben Broselle, Ferndale, Sr. (195 in 3A, state champ at 182 in 3A in 2016); Diego Gallegos, Lindbergh, Sr. (182 in 2A, state champ at 182 in 2A in 2016); Adrian St. Germain, Vashon, So. (152 in 1A, state champ at 145 in 1A in 2016); Ryan Issakides, Selkirk, Jr. (120 in 1B/2B, state champ at 106 in 1B/2B in 2016).
Favorites: 4A: Tahoma, Curtis, Mead (Spokane), Lake Stevens, Moses Lake, South Kitsap, Union (Vancouver), Camas; 3A: Bonney Lake, Kamiakin (Kennewick), Southridge (Kennewick), Kelso, North Central (Spokane), Ferndale; 2A: Toppenish, Orting, Blaine, Olympic, White River, W.F. West (Chehalis); 1A: Granger, Colville, Deer Park, Montesano, Sultan; 1B/2B: Reardan, Ilwaco, Tonasket.
Last: Led by six regional titlists and 10 state qualifiers, top-ranked Bonney Lake should be formidable in the team race for Class 3A. Fourth-ranked North Central of Spokane advanced eight wrestlers and two potential state champions in Quintanilla and Wais (33-4, 21 pins), so plenty of top-end talent can carry this squad. “I think we will be right in the mix,” NC coach Luke Leifer said. “There are a few teams that definitely have us outnumbered, but I wouldn’t say they have the star power we have. It’s going to be a really close race.”
Ball knew he had to find a way to challenge himself if he didn’t want a repeat of his wrestling season last year. He placed seventh in the Class 3A state tournament. Sitting in the Tacoma Dome stands watching the final, Ball believed he could be in the spotlight if he made a few life adjustments.
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Lifting was just the beginning of the offseason plan for his senior year. Next was initiating a discussion about being gay with his wrestling teammates. Ball has been open about his sexuality since freshman year, but he never talked with teammates who, like him, are figuring out who they are and understanding those around them.
“I thought, ‘Why not have a conversation with them about it?’ It’s something that needs to be talked about,” said Ball, who’s also president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at his school. “Breaking down stereotypes is a huge thing to do. People need to realize that it’s not that big of a deal — what you are, how you identify. I hope I’ve impacted some of the wrestlers on my team; I’ve definitely had some good conversations.”
Ball said he immediately noticed how his added strength and courage benefited him in the classroom and on the wrestling mat. He enters Mat Classic XXIX as the favorite to take the state title at 182 pounds. He is ranked No. 1 in the classification in the weight class by washingtonwrestlingreport.net.
“Liam is a great wrestler, but that might not be the best thing about him,” Meadowdale coach Brian Boardman said. “He has so much to offer than just that. … He’s a kid that could change the world, he’s got that ability.”
Wrestling runs in Ball’s family. His father was a wrestler and introduced him to the sport at age 5. Ball’s older brother Ciaran also wrestled for Meadowdale, reaching the state finals at 195 pounds in 2014. He wrestles for Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.
Liam dedicated himself to wrestling in high school. But busy with student clubs — he’s vice president of the student council and organizes school assemblies — Ball always thought he was active enough and worked on the technical portion of wrestling enough that he didn’t need to worry about building strength.
State competitions proved otherwise.
“It was frustrating,” Ball said. “When I placed seventh at state, I felt like I could’ve competed so much more with those guys if I was stronger. I was at their technical level, I just didn’t have the strength.”
Ball still runs an average of 2 miles before school. He added weightlifting three times a week in addition to daily practice. He’s only lost two matches this season, both at a tournament in Idaho.
“Liam’s ability to wrestle isn’t by accident,” Boardman said. “It’s all from the hard work he’s put into it. Wherever he’s had a weakness, he’s worked to get that better. And it’s good for the team to see — you put hard work into something, you’ll get results.”
Ball is eager to see those results at state. A title would also be a good sendoff for Boardman, who’s retiring from coaching the varsity team to focus on the middle-school program.
“I’m getting a second chance,” Ball said. “And I’m ready to go.”