Mat Classic Conquers All Rivals for Sheer Spectacle
Local Grapplers: Title Contenders Lead Long List of State Bound Wrestlers
By Jordan Nailon
The Mat Classic is one of the great spectacles of our time.
For any doubters, we will let history tell the tale of the tape.
Rome had its Coliseum and its slave gladiators. Tacoma has its Dome and its prep grapplers.
Rome was a world empire with overarching contributions to progress and future of western civilization.
Tacoma was voted an All-American City in 1956, 1984 and 1998, Washington is the greatest state in the Union, and America is the best country in the world.
If you need more convincing you can catch a wrestling dad outside. Mullets and cutoffs have a particular way of speaking louder than words.
On Friday a total of 35 local wrestlers will enter the arena representing eight area schools. Over the course of the next two days hopes and dreams will be grasped and dashed in front of an insatiable throng of spectators. And all of it will happen beneath the bright lights of the cold gray dome on a rainbow patchwork of sweat-dappled wrestling mats.
W.F. West and Adna set the pace on the local wrestling scene this year by qualifying nine grapplers each for the state tournament in Tacoma.
The senior-laden Bearcats have perhaps six wrestlers with legitimate title shots and coach Jamie Rakevich is hoping the team can find itself in the thick of the leaderboard as well.
“It would have been nice to get a couple others (to state) but I don’t think we expected to have six regionals champs either. It puts us in a decent spot and we’ll see where we go from there,” said Rakevich. “We’ve got six guys that have a chance of getting to the finals.”
Those six regional champs include Roehre Cunningham, Damon Thomas, Michael Anderson, Brenden Spahr, Brayden Bostwick and Hunter Arredondo.
Cunningham is a 106-pound junior who placed sixth in state in 2016. Thomas, a 138-pound senior, placed second last year after qualifying for the tournament as a freshman and taking sixth place as a sophomore. At 152 pounds, Anderson is a senior with three state finishes under his belt. In 2016 he placed third. At 182 pounds and 220 pounds seniors Spahr and Bostwick were both state participants last year. Senior heavyweight Arredondo was a runner-up at the Mat Classic in 2016.
Rounding out the Bearcat ensemble is 113-pound junior Levi Walters, who was a state participant last year. Senior Jacob Nowels, a 138-pounder, was a state alternate last year and senior E.J. Matagi, 160, will be making his first appearance at the Mat Classic.
“We’ve got a lot of experience going in and we’re just going to line up and wrestle and see what happens,” said Rakevich. “It’s still just dumb high school kids. We’ll line our kids up against their dumb kids and let them go.”
In Adna it’s already been a banner year on the mat, with nine grapplers qualifying for state, but the Pirates are far from satisfied.
“It’s the most that we’ve ever taken and we just feel like every one of these kids can score points for us. Our big goal in addition to having kids place is to place in the top 10 as a team,” noted Adna coach Craig Ferrier.
The Pirates hosted the regional tournament this year and wound up with two individual champions and a second place finish as a team. Ferrier considered the tournament a success on nearly all fronts.
“It’s great. Not only do we have a community that supports us but we break it down and do championship matches under the light,” said Ferrier. “It’s fun to give guys that opportunity to wrestle under the lights in front of the home crowd. It’s just a huge incentive for kids to want to get out there.”
Ashton Dowell, a 160-pound sophomore, was one of those regional champions. Dowell , who has only two losses on the year, was a state participant last year and is currently ranked No. 1 in the 2Bs. Matthew Slape, a 152-pound sophomore, was the other Pirate regional champion and placed fourth at state a year ago.
Other Pirates prepping for Tacoma include 126-pound freshman Lucas Ashley, 182-pound junior Kameron Perry, and first-year wrestler C.J. Dunnagan, who is a heavyweight senior. Pirates with previous Mat Classic experience include 132-pound junior Aaron Slape, 138-pound junior Corbin Balzer and 145-pound junior Braxton Dowell. Luke Wellander, another 145-pound junior, was a state alternate in 2016.
“They all have the ability to win matches but If I had to hedge a bet it would be Braxton Dowell, Matthew Slape and Ashton Dowell. I could see all of those guys having the opportunity to make it to the finals,” said Ferrier.
The Winlock and Toledo tag-team program has four representatives headed to the Mat Classic, including heavyweight frontrunner Dalton Yoder. Yoder, a senior from Toledo, placed second at 220 pounds in 2015 and 2016 before bumping up a weight class and a full 50 pounds this season. So far this year he has only two losses, which both came to opponents from larger classifications.
“So far it’s worked out pretty good. He wants to play football next year and he didn’t want to cut down to 220 pounds this year,” said Toledo/Winlock coach Ryan Arnold. “He weighed in at 270 pounds this weekend. He’s actually gained weight throughout the season, but he can still move pretty good for a heavyweight. He’s pretty technical and it’s a lot for the bigger kids to deal with.”
Fellow Toledo senior Seth Nichols has swapped places with Yoder this year. Last year Nichols fell one match shy of the state tournament as a heavyweight. This year, though, he punched his ticket with a second-place finish at regionals as a 220-pounder.
Winlock’s Hannah Randall and Seth Lindsey will each be returning to the Tacoma Dome. Lindsey placed third last year at 182 and is headed north this year after a second-place finish at regionals at 195 pounds. Randall placed fifth at the Mat Classic in 2015 as a 125-pounder but missed the tournament last year due to injury. This year she is wrestling at 140 pounds and pinned her way through regionals.
“She’s wrestling tough. She dropped down from 145 to 140 and just that 5 pounds has helped her out a lot. She’s pretty strong for a 140 pounder,” said Arnold. “She hasn’t had to go the distance but she’s going have to do that at state … So far this season it’s been pin or be pinned.”
Arnold is anxious to let his charges loose on the big stage and see how the chips fall.
“I’m excited to have four kids headed to state,” said the Arnold. “They are prepared. The hay is in the barn. Now it’s up to them.”
The Napavine/Onalaska tag team program qualified three wrestlers for the Mat Classic. Napavine juniors Aydan Costin and Kaitlyn Bornstein have both been to the big show before and will be flanked by Onalaska freshman Dusty Thayer.
Aydan, placed third at regionals at 160 pounds and enters the state tournament with 33-8 record. Coach Jay Terry said Costin wound up with a good draw for his first round match and “has a good shot at placing if he wrestles offensively.”
Bornstein, 135 pounds, also placed third at regionals and is sporting a 34-7 record. She will have to face the defending state champion en route to the semifinals but Terry still likes her odds of placing in the tournament. Thayer, a 106 pounder with a 25-15 record, has been heating up at the right time this year.
“Dusty has improved tremendously over the past few weeks but will have to wrestle even better Friday to make it through to Saturday and place,” said Terry.
Tenino is sending two Beavers to state this year.
“We knew that we’d send those two but we were hoping to send a few more,” said Tenino coach Donald Ragsdale, who noted that injury and grade issues kept a pair of state caliber Beavers off of the tournament bracket.
Both Stuard Barta, a 182 pound senior, and Tyrik Weyrauch, a 195 pound junior, will be making their first appearance at the Mat Classic.
“Right now they are a little bit of underdogs. I’ve been telling them not to underestimate themselves. They can go in and beat anybody at the stiff competition of state,” said Ragsdale. “They both have the tools and the dedication that they need to be able to succeed.”
Rochester is sending three wrestlers to Tacoma for the Mat Classic, including Jacob Paris who was a state participant last year. First-year coach Jason Dick is excited to have a pair of Warriors to accompany Paris during the team parade.
“It goes to show how hard you work in the wrestling room will directly correlate what you get,” said Dick. “These young kids, it puts it in their heads, and even kids who aren’t wrestling that, you know what, we can do this. We can be successful.”
Paris, a 113 pound senior, is looking to make a statement in his final days as a prep wrestler.
“He has some lofty goals. He has potential to shock a lot of people. Right now his record is 35-3, and I don’t’ avoid competition,” said Dick. “He was very disappointed in himself last year because he went there and didn’t place. He has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this year.”
Dick is also encouraged by Paris’ previous experience at the state tournament. “The more time you can spend at the Dome the better because the Dome does weird things to kids. We call it Dome Shock. The sound, the lights, if you haven’t wrestled on that stage it’s huge.”
Sophomore Jeremy Brant put on about 20 pounds from last year to reach the upper end of the 106 pound weight class and placed fourth at regionals. “He took his lumps and wrestled in the offseason. He’s really dedicated this year and had some good practice partners,” said Dick.
Dick says that freshman 126 pounder, Jayden Lancaster, reminds him of a familiar wrestler — his son Tyson Dick.
“He’s lanky and kind of funky and Tyson has kind of been mentoring him,” said Dick. “You can’t predict anything that’s going to happen in Jayden’s match.”
Dick said that unpredictability can be an asset in the heat of the battle.
“He’s a freshman, so all freshman are goofy, but he’s very coachable while he’s on the mat,” said Dick.
Here in the Hub City there are three Tiger boys getting ready to hit the road for Tacoma. Mykka McAllister, a junior who placed 8th at state last year and Tristan Dickey a junior, who was a participant at state last year, claimed regional championships last weekend at 120 and 160 pounds, respectively. Meanwhile Mario Mungia, a senior in his first year of wrestling, placed fourth at 220 pounds to claim the final regional spot to the Mat Classic.
“Mykka and Tristan should make it to the semifinals and then from there they both have tough matches, but I think they can both win,” said Centralia coach Scott Phillips.
On the girls side, where Centralia coach Mark Holmgren was honored with the Region 3 North District Coach of the year Award, two Tigers qualified for the state tournament. Sidnee Arcury, a senior, who placed 8th at state last year punched her ticket to Tacoma with a regional runner up finish at 145 pounds and senior Sam Tietzel, who was a state participant in 2016 finished third at 125 pounds in regionals in order to make the state tournament. Holmgren believes both girls have a chance to place this year.
When the shoulders meet the mat, though, the numbers only tell half of the story. The rest is written in blood, slobber and tears. Once you get there, a complicit audience to live-action humanity laid bare at the Mat Classic, there is one question you should ask yourself— are you not entertained?