LAKEWOOD RANCH — Blake Riley-Hawkins felt out of place the first time he stepped onto the wrestling mat at the Lakeland Center.
At the time, the then-sophomore lacked the confidence to compete in the Class 2A state finals. Riley-Hawkins finished a disappointing 0-2; but although he didn’t achieve the expectations he had set for himself, Riley-Hawkins learned what it took to be able to compete with the top 16 wrestlers in the state.
Now, one year later, the Lakewood Ranch High junior returned to the mat filled with confidence and high expectations.
“I’m definitely more confident in myself, and I know what I need to do,” Blake Riley-Hawkins said. “I just have to wrestle my match for six minutes nonstop and don’t give up. The toughest part is knowing that every single one of your competitors is going as hard as he can for six minutes. There’s no breather to collect your thoughts. You only get one chance.”
On Feb. 10-11, Riley-Hawkins competed in the Class 2A state wrestling tournament for the second-consecutive season. Riley-Hawkins finished 2-2 in the 132-pound weight class. Riley-Hawkins fell to Springstead’s Josh Herrera, who finished as the state runner-up, in the first round, before defeating Ian Wiswell in the first round of the wrestle back consolation bracket, and Pedro Nieves in the quarterfinals. Riley-Hawkins fell just shy of his quest for a medal after falling to Christian Dominguez, who finished sixth, in the semifinals of the consolation bracket.
“This is his second trip to the state finals as a junior, which is pretty remarkable,” coach Pat Ancil said. “He’s the most technically sound wrestler we have on the team. He’s got phenomenal character as an individual, and there’s not quit in him. That’s the kind of kid you love being around as a coach.
“I know that Blake will use this experience and taste of winning at the state level to help him work harder than ever in the off-season, and to win a state championship next year,” Ancil said.
Riley-Hawkins began wrestling when he was 5 years old, after a family move forced him to leave baseball behind and seek a new sport. Riley-Hawkins and his older brother, Kyle, settled on wrestling.
It didn’t take long for the two brothers to develop a passion for the sport. The two competed together for the final time last year in the state finals. Although the two have both yielded success on the mat, Blake Riley-Hawkins admits his expectations are what matter the most.
“I don’t ever think I have to live up to expectations,” Riley-Hawkins said. “The expectations I place on myself only help me.”
This season, Riley-Hawkins finished with a 40-9 record while capturing county and district titles. Riley-Hawkins finished fourth at the Class 2A-Region 3 tournament and was the lone Lakewood wrestler to advance to the state finals.
“I was happy to make it to states, but the match was closer than it should’ve been,” Riley-Hawkins said. “The best part is just knowing that you’re in the top 16 in the state.”
Now, with another year on the mat behind him, Riley-Hawkins will begin preparing for his senior season with the hopes of earning a college scholarship. Ultimately, Riley-Hawkins would like to wrestle for Ohio State, following his brother and role model.
“My ultimate goal is to follow him and get to where he’s at right now,” Riley-Hawkins said. “I want to follow in his footsteps at Ohio State. I like the coach. He’s a great guy, and I just want to be with all of the wrestlers up there.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].