Chris Cooley doesn't care much for Pittsburgh.

But it treated him well.

Cooley, who is concentrating more on his future with Utah State University shoulder pads than he is on wearing wrestling tights, finished his grappling career as one of the nation's best. Invited to the National High School Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh last month, Cooley returned to Cache Valley an All-American ÿ sixth in his 215-pound weight class.

"It's more of a big deal to others than it is to me," Cooley said from his Lewiston home last week. "It was good to see where you stand."

And he knows he could have picked tights over pads. Cooley signed with Utah State as one of new head coach Mick Dennehy's top recruits.

"I probably could have," said Cooley about wrestling.

A state champion this season, Cooley traveled to Pittsburgh to compete in the national event. Sky View's uncle-nephew combo of Robert and Josh Hancey also competed in the tournament and Josh narrowly missed All-American status. Losing a 4-2 decision in the placing round, Hancey was locked out of finishing in the top eight. Cooley on the other hand, wrestled his way to a sixth-place finish.

"Every weight class had 50-100 wrestlers," Cooley said.

All of them were state finalists at least. Only seniors are invited to compete and only state champions, or runners-up, are allowed on the mat.

Anyone who saw Cooley wrestle this year watched a cat toy with a mouse. Cooley dominated nearly every match this season and didn't lose a one. In Pittsburgh, however, there were kids who'd been doing that since they were sophomores. With that kind of competition on the floor, Cooley's coach Jim Peacock said it was an exciting few days.

"It was exciting to watch," Peacock said. "A lot of these kids were two or three-time state champions."

The three-day affair saw endless matches and qualifying rounds. By the end, Peacock said the cream of the nation's bumper crop was ready to battle.

"All those kids on Saturday were studs," Peacock said.

Battling through a twisted ankle, he said Cooley hanged tough and finished strong.

"He had the mental focus. This was his last hurrah with wrestling," Peacock said. "He proved that he is one of the best ÿ that he's one of the elite in the nation."

Still, Cooley couldn't wait to leave ÿ the big city was a bit too much.

"I don't like it," Cooley said. "It was too big, too crowded."


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