Absorbed in a culture of sweat-dripping, face-slapping hotheads, Michael Soler is as easygoing as elite wrestlers come.
He shows you nothing.
Almost as plain-faced as an accountant on tax day.
Friday is the start of another WIAA state wrestling tournament — Mat Classic XXVIII — at the Tacoma Dome.
Like 13 others (12 boys, one girl) before him, the Lake Stevens High School standout is making his way toward four-peat history.
But Soler — one of the nine “Untouchables” selected by The News Tribune — is also carving out a solo narrative at these state championships. He is vying to become the first wrestler to win four career Class 4A state titles.
“It means a lot, because I put 14 years into this — and it is coming down to this week,” Soler said. “It might be the last time I put on the (wrestling) shoes.
“I will be ready to play Saturday.”
Yet, there is plenty different separating Soler from those in the four-timer fraternity, such as last year’s newest member, Fred Green of Orting (2A), or North Kitsap’s Jake Velarde (2A in 2013) — or even Pin City club coach and fellow Lake Stevens product Burke Barnes (3A in 2002).
He is the first to go from flyweight to super middleweight in four years.
Soler won the 4A title at 106 pounds in 2013, an 8-3 decision over Moses Lake’s Trey Long.
The next season, he defeated another Moses Lake wrestler, Fernando Leyva, in the 113 finals.
Then came his 132 championship showdown last February with Pasco’s Timmy Martinez, as good a pound-for-pound wrestler as there was in the state.
Soler ground out a 5-4 decision over the two-time reigning state champion.
“What a gamer he is,” Vikings coach Brent Barnes said. “He absolutely knows how to step up for big matches.”
But now, Soler is bigger — much bigger. He has jumped up five weight classes to 170. And he is still the baddest teenager at his weight.
“This has been incredible to see,” said Jake Douglas, Soler’s three-time state-placing teammate at Lake Stevens. “I was bigger than Michael our entire careers by at a weight class or two. And we get to this season, and he sprouts up.
“But he has always stuck to his roots of being a little guy moving his feet.”
Soler has grown up in a family of wrestlers and mixed martial arts performer. His father, Al, was a prep wrestler in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. His older brother, Eric, is a two-time state champion at Lake Stevens.
Al brought both of his sons to USA Everett at an early age. Back in 2002, when Eric was in competitive youth wrestling, Michael started at the age of 4.
“He was always in the practice room with us, so I let him do his own thing,” Al Soler said. “That first year, Michael did not win a single match (on the mat). He had 60 matches … and won two by forfeit.”
Yet, oddly enough, that year of low-pressure wresting has greatly contributed to Michael Soler’s current low-key personality.
“It is what I do,” Soler said, “not who I am.”
That did not mean Soler bypassed the hard work wrestling takes. Over the years, he won 10 state freestyle, folkstyle and Greco-Roman state titles, and picked up 424 wins in USA Wrestling tournaments.
At the same time, Soler trained in judo, and captured the gold medal at the 2008 USJA/USJF national title as a 10-year-old.
The Solers were largely responsible for also rebuilding USA Everett (2004-09) before the two brothers jumped to Pin City Wrestling, which was founded by Burke Barnes.
“At USA Everett, I got my base. We had good coaching from my dad and (Todd) Christensen. Everyone who came out of that club was good at wrestling on the top and bottom,” Soler said. “Pin City is where I got good on my feet, because Burke is so good on his feet.
“He helped me transition from kid wrestling to high school wrestling.”
Over the past year, Soler’s biggest transition came after a growth spurt.
At last year’s state tournament, Soler said he stood at 5-foot-7 and 148 pounds without cutting weight.
Shortly after he walks out of the Tacoma Dome on Saturday night, he will return to his new normal size: 5-11, 172 pounds.
“After state last year, everything I ate, I kept gaining weight,” Soler said. “I knew I would get big eventually. I have always been a late bloomer.”
If Soler really wanted to, he could have cut weight and competed in the 152 weight class this season.
But Soler wanted to see through Running Start at Everett Community College. He is expected to finish two years of college by the spring, and is set to enroll in nursing school.
Cutting a huge amount of weight this winter, Soler admitted, could have adversely affected his studying.
“I am not the strongest (170-pounder),” Soler said. “But nobody bullies me.”
Brent Barnes jokes Soler “won’t win any sprints” against other guys his size, or is even a fantastic athlete — or could win a body-building contest against high school training partner Malachi Lawrence, who looks like a mini-Hercules in the 160 class.
“But Michael is a great wrestler,” Barnes said. “He knows what he is doing. He knows where his body is at all times. It’s because (the Solers) have spent so much time on the mat. As little kids, they were going at it 4-5 nights a week, so they have a great feel for everything.”