When the referee raised wrestler Robbie Mathers’ arm as the winner of his 112-pound class, Mathers wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
The Desert Vista sophomore wanted to win on the mat, rather than take a default victory. But the latter is what happened when his Mesa Red Mountain opponent scratched, rather than walk into the ring.
“He didn’t want to wrestle me,” Mathers said. “That’s the first time that’s happened this year. I guess I’m building a reputation.”
Fight or flight might be more like it, and he’ll probably find more wrestlers in his class choose the latter this season.
“Maybe they’re afraid of him, I don’t know,” Desert Vista coach David Gonzalez said. “That comes with reputation, and it’s something he’s going to have to live with as he achieves the goals he wants to achieve.”
A couple of weeks earlier Mathers won his division at the Black Watch Invitational in Upland, Calif. That backed up a championship in the Moon Valley Invitational late last month. Both of those victories came on the mat.
As a freshman he placed third in the 103-pound class in the state 5A-I tournament last season.
“Last year I was small,” Mathers said. “This is my best weight.”
Mathers, 15, has played soccer, football and baseball, but wrestling is in his genes.
His great-grandfather, Robert, lost one match in four years at Cornell University and is in that institution’s Wrestling Hall of Fame.
His father, Rob, was on the 1988 Arizona State University wrestling team, which won the National Collegiate Athletic Association national championship. He coaches wrestling at Altadeña Middle School.
“My dad has helped me out a lot,” Mathers said. “He’s been working with me on my technique.”
And, he said, some of that technique comes with repetition.
“When you do a move over and over again, 100 times in practice, you just go out on the mat and do it,” he said. “You have to be mentally tough, too, and focus. Every time I go out there I have the attitude that I’m going win.”
That’s not cockiness. Neither Gonzalez or his dad would allow that. But he has become confident, even as a sophomore.
Some of that comes from wrestling year-round, even when it requires traveling out-of-state.
He, his dad and his younger brother, Matthew, traveled from Reno, Nev., to Delaware last summer.
“You get to see a lot of good wrestlers and have closer matches doing that,” the elder Mathers explained.
Or, he can wrestle as close as his backyard where his father has built a wrestling practice room.
“I wanted him to try different sports and then decide what he wanted to do,” Rob Mathers added. “But I also told him when he found something to stay with it. Over the last couple of years both boys have shown more interest and when that expanded to wrestling in college talk I got more serious with them. ”
The elder Mathers grew up in New Jersey, and the summer road trip was his idea.
“There are some brutal kids that can man-handle you back there in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York,” Rob Mathers said. “That exposure gave them an idea of the work ethic it takes to really reach that goal.”
The younger Mathers’ goal is to wrestle in college.
Matthew, who will be a freshman at Desert Vista next year, has won three middle school tournaments this year at 88 pounds, including the annual national Sunkist Kids meet. Yet he is still too small to get into a serious bout with his older brother in the back yard.
Size was Robbie Mathers’ major obstacle last season.
“He was lacking the size and the strength,” Rob Mathers said, “and he was wrestling kids that were ahead of him on the maturity scale. Now he’s caught up with them, but he’s still wrestling a lot of 17- and 18-year-old seniors who are really young men.”
There have been eight individual state champions go through the Desert Vista wrestling program, so his coach is cautious about lavishing too many accolades too soon.
“He’s good, and he’s been around a long time,” said Gonzalez, who has known Mathers since he was attending camps as a 6-year-old.
“But he hasn’t won anything yet,” Gonzalez said. “Technically he’s there and ability-wise he’s there, now we’ll see how the year unfolds.”