Kekoa Madayag – Marin Independent Journal


Kekoa Madayag made a long trip from Novato to Bakersfield this season, but was rewarded for her determination by bringing home some impressive gear from the CIF State Wrestling Championships.

“I think finishing seventh shows how much I’ve grown since my freshman year,” said Madayag who took medal honors at 106 pounds. “I didn’t even get ranked as a freshman in the North Coast section and now I’ve gone upstate and got a medal.”

And now Madayag has made a winning case to be Marin IJ’s Male Wrestler of the Year.

Madayag tore through the competition on the first day of wrestling on February 24 and held on for two more days to earn medalist honors and solidify his status as California’s elite wrestler.

“On the first day, everyone seemed very eager to get started,” Madayag said after struggling at the state tournament for the first time in her career. “Most of the wrestlers were in good spirits and talking to each other at weigh-ins and sign-ups. … Everyone who competed in the state deserved to be there. They all worked all year to make it and they wanted to prove that they were one of the best in California.

Madayag entered the arena as the ninth seed after winning the North Coast Section and MCAL championships. He picked up a 2-0 win over Elk Grove’s Nick Bulanin and then edged Buchanan’s No. 8 seed Anthony Harris 5-2, a game Madayag called a favorite.

“Winning this match really showed how much I’ve grown as a wrestler since losing to him last year (in a tournament) by major decision,” Madayag said.

The win set up a meeting with top seed Isaiah Cortez of Gilroy to start day two of competition. Madayag lost to Cortez, 8-0, but bounced back to win two consolation games to finish seventh overall.

“I don’t think anything has really changed in terms of how I wrestled (after losing to Cortez),” Madayag said. “I like to watch my competitors to get a sense of how they are struggling, but once the match comes around I end up doing what’s best for me for the situation. … I really hate losing, but all I can do is fix my previous mistakes and use what I learned to do better in my next game.

In his first consolation match on the final day, Madayag defeated No. 7 seed Victor Ramirez Jr. of Central Catholic, then defeated No. 11 seed Jeremy Oani of Righetti. A loss to No. 5 seed Edwin Sierra of Poway ended Madayag’s run this season, but not before he captured a piece of history for the Novato High fight.

“I was really happy with the way I finished,” Madayag said. “I exceeded my goal and ranked higher than where I was ranked. I was also happy not to have to weigh in the next morning (after the tournament) and to be able to eat what I wanted.

Madayag is Marin County’s first state medalist since Nathan Morris of Redwood placed sixth at 182 pounds in 2014. Dylan Morris of Redwood placed seventh at 170 pounds in 2012. Dylan and Nathan Morris all have two received the Ralph Cutler Award as MCAL Wrestler of the Year. same year they placed at the state.

Madayag is the first Hornets wrestler to win the Ralph Cutler Award since its inception in 2011. He was a first-team selection as a 2020 rookie. Little did Madayag know then that he would become a cornerstone in the founding of the Hornets. the Novato High fight.

“It’s always been exciting to watch Kekoa wrestle,” Novato coach Rafael Ayala said. “In the wrestling room, he’s a man of few words, but you can see he absorbs everything that’s done. When he talks, he makes it count. He wrestles the same way. He lets his fight talk.

The two first met when Madayag was still in sixth grade and Ayala arrived to lead the physical education class, including a wrestling program.

“I hadn’t really planned to join the program,” Madayag admitted. “A very close friend of mine convinced me to enroll and after a few weeks I really started liking it and decided to stick with it going to high school. …I got the impression that over the years wrestling has strengthened many aspects of my life. Wrestling has made me stronger, more comfortable with my body, and overall it has forced me out out of my comfort zone and really helped me come out of my shell.

Madayag’s brother, Ikaika, followed him onto the wrestling mats at Novato and this season earned First Team All-MCAL honors as a 132-pounder. Ikaika Madayag finished eighth in the NCS.

“A lot of times when you have a brother or sister who is doing well in sports, you feel like they have to live up to certain expectations. Ikaika handles that pressure uniquely and incredibly well,” Ayala said. Always works hard and is his brother’s best sparring partner. At the same time, he’s building a style of wrestling all his own. He’s not chasing his brother’s path. He’s establishing his own. The brothers have a dynamic interesting on the mat and at tournaments. Both are soft-spoken, but both are leaders in their own right. Kekoa shows individuals what can be with a dedication to improvement, and Ikaika helps bring the team together by doing make wrestling feel like family.

Kekoa Madayag admitted, “My brother and I can get quite competitive at times. Our wrestling styles are almost completely opposite as well, so wrestling together becomes a really fun challenge for us.

Novato’s teammate Joshua Pena was also a first-team pick at 285 pounds as the Hornets went 6-0 in the regular season.

“I was a little surprised at our success,” said Kekoa Madayag. “I think we always had good wrestlers in the team, but many lacked the motivation and mentality to win tough matches. This year I have certainly seen a fire lit under each of our wrestlers and I am very happy to see them grow in the offseason and compete next year.

It helped that the Hornets finally had a full roster to avoid forfeits against other teams.

“On top of that, it really felt like the team this year genuinely fell in love with the sport and that’s already a great start for a great team,” Madayag said. “This year I felt the camaraderie of the team was really strong. I think that’s one of the things that stands out to me the most compared to previous years.

Watching Madayag wrestle, he generally seems to be in control of the action on the mat. He can aim for the quick pinfall, but has the patience to wait for the right opening and the stamina to wear down his opponent. Madayag leads his opponent like leading a dance, preparing to score with a takedown or near drop, or aim for the pin.

“I think one of the most important traits to have as a lightweight is versatility,” he said. “Lightweights are normally fast and shrewd, so being able to handle a lot of different wrestling styles is important to wrestling at a higher level.”

The Madayag brothers are hoping to bring back more gear from the state championships next season.

“Next year I hope to rank higher in the state,” said Kekoa Madayag. “I plan to continue training at home and going to off-season training to prepare for next year. … Since next year is my last year at Novato, I want to make sure I fight at my full potential and leave no regrets.

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