WAUSAU — The original blueprint to rid the sour taste of falling short at state was supposed to take place in a weight room, where Mason Phillips would lift that much harder.
Or the inclined bike trail by his house on the northside of Eau Claire, where he’d use last year’s fourth-place finish at 126 pounds as motivation to run longer and faster.
Simply put, he wanted to pound out his last chance at a state title by exhausting himself through his own hard work.
Then coaches and trainers stepped in.
“The strength and conditioning coaches sat me down in the summer and were like, ‘Dude, you need to chill out,’” said Phillips, the Eau Claire North senior who won his third sectional title and qualified for his fourth state meet on Saturday.
“That was a major check for me.”
Instead, that transformation has taken place at the dinner table, where he’s switched up his diet. Or time in the pool to keep him off his feet when he doesn’t need to be on them. Or even his headphones on mat day, when he’s switched up his music choice to something a little less intense.
And he’d like to give a ringing endorsement to up-and-coming hip-hop artist Lil Skies, who replaced heavy metal artists on Phillips’ pre-match playlist.
“I’m huge on my guy,” Phillips said with a smile ear to ear. “I love all his songs.”
More to the point, changing music has kept him in an fierce mood while at the same time trying not to make the wrestling match more than it is.
Phillips is all about fun this winter and is basking in every last second in his Huskies singlet, in which he’s piled up a 31-2 record as a senior and a 163-13 career record headed into the WIAA individual state championships today through Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison.
He’ll go for his first state title at 138 pounds this weekend. He placed fifth as a freshman at 106, fourth at 113 as a sophomore and fourth again as a junior last year at 126.
Phillips is a kid who embraces every challenge with the utmost effort and fight. Intensity defines him.
That’s still there. It’s just been accompanied by a little push of the refresh button.
“It’s been a fun ride this year,” first-year coach Jacob Rebhan said. “He’s faced adversity in life, and he’s better for it. That kid is a great worker, a hard worker and a great kid. He does things the right way.”
Phillips is well-balanced and the kind you’d want your own son or daughter to model themselves after.
If there’s somebody sitting by themselves at a lunch table in the North commons, Phillips will sit with him or her and strike up a genuine conversation. Who knows, maybe he’s promoting Lil Skies’ new single. He’ll major in marketing next year, after all.
Last spring, he started a recycling club and spent a day going around the community picking up litter.
It all comes back to wrestling, though. And as a coach, it’s always better to have to tell your athlete to pump the brake a bit instead of push the gas.
Phillips listened to his coaches and began doing things a bit differently so he’d feel fresh, focused and pressure-free.
“I really changed up on the duration of my conditioning,” Phillips said. “The shorter and more intense conditioning you can get in, the more it kind of simulates a wrestling match. And it’s less strain.”
He’s no longer the wiry freshman or sophomore out there. His shoulders are broad and defined, and his upper-body strength is just as impressive as the power he generates in the legs.
At sectionals on Saturday in Wausau, Phillips got a three-point nearfall near the end of the first period in his championship match that was all chest and arms.
“He’s just a strong kid,” Rebhan said. “I don’t think anybody’s outmuscled him this year.”
Phillips will drop down and do 100 pushups and do 10 sprints when he’s done wrestling for the day.
On Saturday night, he hopes to do them with a gold medal around his neck.
But even if he doesn’t, he’s set a standard for work ethic in the area and willingness to learn and listen that nobody can take away from him.