It was late on a Saturday night last year, and the Pina family was resting comfortably in their room at the Travel Lodge, winding down from a big day at the Tacoma Dome.
Sisto Santana Pina, hours removed from finishing with his arm raised and standing atop the state wrestling championship podium, still was trying to get his head around the concept: Mat Classic champion.
I was in my parents room, and we were talking, Pina recalled of that perfect moment during his junior year. I go to take a shower, and I look in the mirror, and its like, I did it! Both my parents smiled, and my dad gave me a big hug.
I did it ... finally.
You see the ever-present smile on his face, see his name up in gold letters on the wall of the Kamiakin High School wrestling room, see all those trophies and medals that stay boxed up most of the time, and it would be easy to think this kid has it made.
But it has not been all smooth sailing for the S.S. Pina.
Start with the injuries back, knee, elbow and ankle that cost him the month of December his first three years with the Braves and plagued his sophomore state run when he placed third. Even this year, he missed the first week of the season healing up from a knee injury suffered during football season.
Then there are the occasional inconsistencies on the mat, times when he maybe gets a little too comfortable.
Hes lost more matches this season than ever before, head coach Jordan Anderson said, noting Pinas 22-6 record (106-17 in his career). But he bounces back really well.
Even last year when he won the Class 3A state title at 170 pounds, Pina finished third at districts before getting on a role at regionals and dominating at state.
One thing my dad has always told me, Pina said, bounce back.
He will try to bounce back from an up-and-down postseason starting Friday in Tacoma as Mat Classic turns 25. Pina and senior teammates Harley Kolp (132) and Cesar Castillo (113) give the Braves a trio of top contenders.
Urbie and Gloria Pinas life has become wrestling as their three sons Gio, Sisto and Urbie Jr. (or just Jr.) grew up and excelled at it. Urbie, a basketball player at heart, threw himself into wrestling as his sons took an interest and has been an assistant at Kamiakin since 2007-08.
Gio was a senior when Sisto joined the team as a freshman, already an accomplished competitor with 12 state titles from youth wrestling, including a triple crown in folkstyle, freestyle and Greco-Roman as an eighth grader.
The brothers goal that 2009-10 season was to get to state together. Sisto did at 160 pounds (tough weight for freshmen), but Gio came up short.
And it is in those situations where Sisto is most tested.
He took it hard when Gio didnt get to state. Took it harder last season when he and Jr., younger by a year, got to state, but his little brother was eliminated on the first day.
It was a big deal, Jr. said. It was something we both wanted. It was big for both of us.
Toughest yet was when Jr.s season came to an end a month ago with a severe wrist injury at the River City Duals in Post Falls, Idaho. As his parents took Jr. to the hospital, Sisto had to stay behind with the team and keep wrestling.
It was one of the hardest weekends Ive ever had to deal with, he said.
Of course, the flip side to those raw emotions is the joy Pina seems to wring from everything he does. A week after winning state last year, he was at a boys basketball game with the RUN KANO student section, wearing a wrestling singlet and hoisting a professional wrestling-style championship belt.
A shrinking violet in social situations, he is not.
He likes to have fun, Anderson said. But when he wrestles, hes all business.
And Pinas wrestling style when hes at his best tends to mimic the rest of his life.
Sisto is one of the best scramblers Ive wrestled with, and that includes college, said Anderson, who placed third in back-to-back season for Kamiakin just seven years ago. He has an ability to get out of bad situations thats incredible.
Which is why no one in the Kamiakin camp is doubting Pinas chances to repeat as a state champ, even though he lost the district and regional finals to Universitys Austin Stannard.
I know I need to be confident in my ability, Pina said. A lot of people believe in me. ... If I didnt believe in my ability, I shouldnt be out there.
At state, you put everything on the line, he added. They talk about every season you start the postseason at 0-0. I think at state, too, you start 0-0.
Pina makes no bones about it: The only good ending to this season is to finish like last with his hand in the air, back on the top step of the podium.
Do that, and he joins an elite club of Tyler Sherfey (2003-04), Mikey Rodriguez (2002-03) and Tim Moon (1972-73) as the schools only two-time champs.
Yeah, he said, Im shooting for gold.