All-Empire boys wrestling: Newman’s Klee not looking back

By TED SILLANPAA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cardinal Newman senior P.J. Klee was a strong contender to become the first Empire wrestler to win a state championship in eight years. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman senior P.J. Klee was a strong contender to become the first Empire wrestler to win a state championship in eight years. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Cardinal Newman’s P.J. Klee was willing to look back at his brilliant senior season, briefly. He’d been selected All-Empire Boys Wrestler of the Year, so he likely felt obligated to consider, for just a minute, his path to finishing second in the CIF state championship meet — falling just shy of the title when a controversial call didn’t go his way.

“A lot of people wanted me to win the state championship,” Klee said. “It might have been a bigger deal to other people to lose in that championship match than it is to me. I’m already looking forward to wrestling at the Division I level in college. I think the whole year went pretty well.”

Pretty well.

If Klee had been awarded points with seconds left in the state tournament title match, and many believe he had earned them, he would have been the first Empire wrestler to win a state championship in eight years.

His season went pretty well, all right.

Klee, who wrestled at a boarding school on the East Coast before returning to attend Cardinal Newman as a junior and wrestle as a senior, said the season was tough at the start.

“It was up and down with the whole weight thing,” he said of the struggle to make weight to wrestle initially at 132 pounds. “I wrestled at 132 at a big preseason meet in Minnesota. I was in the Ironman tournament at 132, but I didn’t know until the morning of the tournament if I could make the weight. And, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cut the weight. I moved up in weight and that’s when the season started getting better.”

Klee dominated competition at 145 pounds as the Windsor King of the Mat tournament neared.

“I’d seen that a top 152-pounder from Clovis had won that weight class in a big meet, so I went up to 152 for Windsor,” Klee said. “I won the championship by a really big margin in the championship match. It was great. I was eating as much as I wanted without having to worry about watching my weight, cut weight, constantly. That’s hard to do.”

Klee wrestled against the top competition in the nation while living on the East Coast. So, his return to wrestle at Cardinal Newman meant a step down in competition for the North Bay League season.

“It was a challenge for me,” he said of his return to the NBL. “I really enjoyed my teammates. Wrestling up in weight class was cool. And, I wrestled outside the area. It was my decision what tournaments I entered and I wrestled in some of the tops in the nation. So, I wrestled the best guys there. I made some mistakes, but I learned from them as the season went on.”

Klee was a favorite to win the state championship in Bakersfield. Without dwelling on the meet or the championship match, the senior said there might’ve been a reason for his falling short of a state crown.

“I may have peaked too early in the season,” he said. “You want to peak at the end of the season.”

Klee is headed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the fall where he’ll study engineering and wrestle.

“My life is basically wrestling,” he said. “I stay active. It’s what I enjoy. I’ll take a week off once in a while, but if I don’t go to the gym, I start getting anxious.”

Klee does have plans beyond wrestling.

“I want to be an engineer, so I’m looking forward to going to West Point. That’s the best in the nation,” he said.

And, he’s a regular high school kid. Klee likes to have fun. He doesn’t wrestle, wrestle and then wrestle some more.

“I’ve been training in San Francisco and started going an hour before wrestling starts so I can start boxing,” Klee said.

Boxing? That’s what the wrestler does for fun? “I really enjoy boxing, yeah,” he said. “It’s something that requires competitive and toughness. Lots of wrestling techniques carry over to boxing, but I’m learning all the things about boxing that have nothing to do with what I’ve learned in wrestling. Boxing might be something I try to pursue.”

You can reach Ted Sillanpaa at Ted.Sillanpaa@pressdemocrat.com.

ALL-EMPIRE BOYS WRESTLING

WRESTLER OF THE YEAR
P.J. Klee, Cardinal Newman, senior

COACH OF THE YEAR
Rich Carnation, Windsor

FIRST TEAM
106:
Austin Wilson, Windsor, junior
113: Perez Perez, Windsor, senior
120: Noah Au-Yeung, Windsor, junior
126: Dominic DuCharme, Windsor, sophomore
132: Evan Bluestone, Maria Carrillo, senior
138: Trevor Silva, Windsor, senior
145: Dominick Dingess, Lower Lake, senior
152: Ian Black, Healdsburg, senior
160: Dray Payne, Ukiah, senior
170: Ryan Dahneke, Lower Lake, senior
182: Nick Pruett, Petaluma, senior
195: Paris Henry, Windsor, senior
220: Montana Pawak, Maria Carrillo, junior
285: Pablo Gonzalez, Ukiah, senior

SECOND TEAM
106:
Denny Layden, Montgomery, senior
113: Harris Meglen, Sonoma Valley, senior
120: Brian Guerrero, Rancho Cotate, senior
126: Blake Hartleib, Petaluma, senior
132: Seth Trunick, Windsor, senior
138: Joey Gradek, Ukiah, junior
145: Michael Klee, Cardinal Newman, junior
152: Erick Moreno, Lower Lake, senior
160: Ricky Cavender, Fort Bragg, junior
170: Isaiah Barragan, Rancho Cotate, senior
182: Anthony Spallino, Windsor, sophomore
195: Nathan Johnson, Analy, senior
220: Kenny Beeler, Analy, senior
285: William Isaacs, Lower Lake, junior

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