PASCO -- Lonnie Hurley has had a number of big moments in his Pasco wrestling career.
There was the win in the loser-out consolation round of regionals his sophomore year, a 12-5 decision over Wenatchee senior Justin Valdez, who had beaten Hurley twice the previous week at districts.
Hurley, a fifth seed, went on to place fourth and earn a trip to state as an alternate. He did not touch the Tacoma Dome mats that season, but it was an important introduction to the two days of orchestrated chaos that is Mat Classic.
There was a pin of Southridge's Andrew Godinez at last year's regionals, a bounce-back match from a disappointing semifinal loss for Hurley, a No. 1 seed as a junior. He went on to place third and earn the final guaranteed berth to state. Though Hurley went 1-2 and did not place the following weekend, it was another big step in his progression.
So many big wins and a handful of tough losses in a high school wrestling career that begins its final postseason run today at the CBBN 3A district tournament at Hanford. But none of those matches can stack up next to the summer after Hurley's eighth-grade year, when wrestling quit being a hobby and started being a priority.
"I had no intentions of wrestling," the 160-pounder said this week while preparing for a three-week run he hopes will lead to a podium finish in Tacoma. "It was something to do after football and basketball.
"But coach (Jay) Covington, he made me fall in love with it. He was always there -- just on me about my grades and stuff. I love that coach."
Covington, Pasco's fifth-year head coach, was taking a group of kids to Montana that summer for a camp, and Hurley came along.
Somewhere along the way, something clicked.
"It was one of the best experiences I ever had," Hurley said. "And I worked hard on it."
He didn't crack varsity as a freshman but did win a couple of matches at district as a 145-pounder.
Encouraged by the experience, Hurley went even farther the following summer, all the way to Minnesota for the 30-day J Robinson Camp. He's thankful to his mom, coaches and church for helping raise the $3,000 needed for the trip.
"The fact that I was out there, when I thought about it," he said, "nothing could hold me back."
The ensuing season brought a full-time varsity slot as a sophomore, as well as that trip to state as an alternate.
It also saw the emergence of wrestlers who would go on to help Pasco finish 12-2 in the CBBN 3A the last two seasons.
Last year, with four berths and two alternates, the Bulldogs doubled their state contingent from the last three years combined and sent one of their largest groups to Tacoma in more than two decades.
"They're decent; they can hold their own most of the time," said Covington, whose ability at understatement is challenged by his determination not to jinx his team.
Hurley, twins Gilbert and Robert Mendoza at 132, Hugo Mabry at 126 and Anthony McKittrick at 152 are seniors who have been mainstays in the Pasco lineup for at least the last two seasons. Add to that Phoenix Virgen -- who can't quite crack the varsity lineup but qualified for regionals at 130 last year -- and Hurley's cousin, Deondre Sparks -- who moved back to Pasco from Oregon and is a state threat at 138 -- and the Bulldogs have a potent senior class that should make a lot of waves in the postseason.
"They have been at times the best kids to be around," Covington said. "But I think sometimes they want to see how much stress they can cause in my life, see if they can make me lose more of my hair."
Covington cited the hard work, extra workouts, offseason wrestling and a slew of other factors that bred success in the group.
Hurley, he added, is as dedicated as anyone. But, the coach added, he has something that cannot be coached or coaxed: speed.
"Kids either have quickness or they don't," Covington said. "You can spend a lot of time in the weight room trying to develop it, but you either have it or don't. And you either have the ability to stick your nose into something or you don't.
"Lonnie has those. It's nothing fancy. He gets in there, and he's quick. It's fun to watch, but I hate wrestling him. I'm an old man, and he's way too quick for me."
Too quick even for McKittrick, who trades getting schooled on his feet to giving some lessons on the mat when he and Hurley match up in the wrestling room.
"Lonnie does not like to lose, and he'll come at you with the whole package," McKittrick said. "He's always attacking. I've never seen him try to be defensive on his feet. You try to shoot on him, and he's already shot on you."
Hurley hopes that speed will pay bigger dividends at state this year, with last year as a learning experience.
"Whoo, man, I remember that first match," he said of getting pinned in the first round last year at Tacoma. "I just wanted to get out there and go hard. I just remember me getting caught. I was ahead and got caught, and I was never again going to get caught like that."
So what will make a good finish to this season?
"Honestly, I'd say just placing," he said. "If I wrestle well and never give up, always fighting, always moving, that's all I ask for, for my teammates, for myself.
"I'm glad my coach never gave up on me. Because of that, I'm not going to give up."
* Kevin Anthony: 509-582-1403; email@example.com