There was a time when on most days, anyone looking for Matthew Floresca could find him at the local skate park.

Just look for the long hair and tight moves.

Nowadays, Floresca has traded in the skateboard and long hair for the disciplines of wrestling. It’s his business of the day, every day now.

Floresca, once offered a professional skating contract by Zumiez, XS Energy and other companies who sponsor skateboarding, decided at age 14 he was done with the fun ride and got serious about his craft. So that meant all his moves would now come on the wrestling mat.

Floresca, a senior at Shorewood High School, has accomplished almost everything in wrestling, including state titles in the USA Wrestling leagues, except one thing: Win a state title at Mat Classic.

“Ever since freshman year, winning a state title has been on my list of goals,” said Floresca, who began wrestling at age 5. “Coming so close [to a state title] and beating a lot of state champions in different weight classes growing up, has made me hungry.

“Especially coming so close last year, made me hungry.”

Floresca was one win away from that goal last season in Mat Classic XXV and one win from a season of perfection, but the Thunderbirds’ top gun was taken down and so was his 32-0 record by Kelso senior Josh Newberg.

It took a grinding, 3-0 decision in last year’s 126-pound final in Class 3A from Newberg, who became a rare three-time state champion with the triumph. Tied 0-0 entering the third round, Newberg grabbed a tenuous 1-0 lead and then scored a two-point takedown with just under a minute left in the match.

“The hundreds of hours of hard work, you just see that flash through your head when you lose like that,” said Floresca, who’s back at 126. “You think about everything different you could’ve done during the match. Also, you think about how you could’ve prepared better or trained better.

“I think about whether I should’ve cut him and give up (an escape) point. I was frustrated at myself.”

The loss left a hollow spot in Floresca’s career and a strong hunger for his final high-school season. He’s taking measures to be fresher at the end of his senior campaign.

“I wasn’t really afraid going into it, but I was an underdog (against Newberg),” Floresca said. “It’s about reaching your peak performance at the right time. Everyone has a certain level they can get to, and that’s the best you can be at that moment.

“I think I hit that point midway through the season and was trying to maintain that level and then I got some injuries.”

Floresca didn’t train quite as hard last summer, taking a more casual two-week trip with a wrestling group, Down Under Sports, to New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.

“We did some beach wrestling in Australia, and that was a lot different than what we do in school,” Floresca said.

Shortly after Floresca traded half-pipes for half-nelsons full time, he began laying the groundwork of success and building a career high-school record of 96-8 (through Dec. 14).

“Given the two choices (of skateboarding or wrestling), I saw more of a future in wrestling, because of the scholarship opportunities,” said Floresca, who has received offers from Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, Columbia, Southern Oregon and Southwestern Oregon Community College. “The sport is really big in my family. I also felt like I owed it to the team and the coaches to stick with it and give it my all.

“I had tons of offers for skateboarding.”

Floresca enjoys the solo mentality of both sports.

“Skateboarding and wrestling, competition-wise you are both going out there by yourself,” he said, noting he dislocated his elbow in seventh grade in skateboarding. “With both you’re trying to go out there and prove you’re the best. But they’re definitely different. I had more friends in wrestling and it’s more of a character-builder.

“Skateboarding was a hobby, something I did for fun and to relax. Wrestling has always been more of a job and a career to me.”

Shorewood wrestling coach Derek Norton coached Floresca when he was at his competitive crossroads with wrestling and skateboarding. Norton is glad he chose the wrestling mat.

“There was a brief scare for the coaches,” Norton said.

Norton knows Floresca is fearless and that likely is a big reason for his success in both sports.

“Matthew doesn’t avoid people,” said the Thunderbirds coach. “That’s not his style. He’d rather wrestle the toughest kids in the country or in the state rather than avoid competition. He feels he can beat anybody.”

Norton wants his charge to go out on top.

“A state title would just be that final piece to the puzzle we are looking for in Matthew’s career,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that have to combine to get that title. To Matthew, this is the pinnacle and something he’s been dreaming about since he was a little kid.”

Floresca, 17, and Norton, are aiming at nothing less than a state championship for one of the school’s all-time best wrestlers. Only Tim Hester has won an individual state title for Shorewood, taking down the 189-pound weight class in 2008.

“One thing we gained from the finals experience last year was maturity from Matthew,” Norton said. “It was an interesting experience in the finals last year. I think we thought we had it wrapped up going into the third period. Losing the title kind of brought things back into perspective.

“I think he was kind of burned out last season. I think he rediscovered his love of wrestling. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see him grow as a leader in our wrestling room.”

The quest for that elusive state title in the loaded 126-pound weight class could be a grind for the top-ranked wrestler at 126 pounds in 3A as rated by www.washingtonwrestlingreport.net.

In addition to Floresca, the 126-pound state bracket is likely to include the likes of three other state runner-up finishers in 3A last season. Heading the list of challengers is University of Spokane sophomore Cam Sorenson, who was second at 113 in 3A as a freshman.

Also competing at 126 in 3A are Mount Spokane senior Kiegen Schauer, second at 120 in 3A as a junior, and Stanwood junior West Weinert, second at 106 in 3A as a sophomore. Giving depth to 126 are Lakes junior Andrew Ramirez, fifth at 120 in 3A as a sophomore, Mercer Island junior Luke Wilson, seventh at 120 in 3A as a sophomore, and Decatur senior Trysten Dawson, eighth at 113 in 3A as a junior.

“They are all competing for second. That’s how I look at it,” Floresca said.

There was a thought that Eastside Catholic’s Matthew Iwicki, the state champion at 120 in 3A in 2013, would be at 126, but he’s likely opting to go up to 132 and is ranked No. 1 at that weight by www.washingtonwrestlingreport.net.

Battling three-time state Newberg in last year’s 126 final, though stinging, gave Floresca a shot of confidence.

“It shows me that I know I’m capable of being there and accomplishing my dream,” he said.

The only thing missing
Senior Matthew Floresca has placed at Class 3A state wrestling each of his three seasons at Shorewood High School, leaving him chasing his ultimate goal. Floresca, who is 96-8 overall (through Dec. 14), has inched closer to that childhood dream each season with the Thunderbirds. Here’s the progression:
Year Weight Record Finish
2014 126 6-0 ???
2013 126 32-1 2nd
2012 120 29-3 4th
2011 112 29-4 7th