Tahoma wrestling has an eye on a state title
By KRIS HILL
Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor
December 1, 2011 · Updated 9:35 AM
Tahoma is stacked.
The Bears wrestling team has 12 competitors who were on the floor of the Tacoma Dome in February for Mat Classic XXIII, the state championship tournament.
Among them is Steven Hopkins, who won the 103 pound weight class as a sophomore two years ago, and Joey Palmer who won the 125 pound class as a junior last year at Rogers High in Puyallup.
Both seniors think Tahoma has a shot at the 4A state title given the amount of experience — both on the high school mat and in other programs — the team brings back this season.
“Our whole varsity could be at state,” Hopkins said. “It’s not just our varsity that’s good… our second string is good. We have a lot of experience.”
Palmer stated, “We have the potential to win state.”
He explained that head coach Chris Feist’s Bear Claw and Wolf Pack programs for elementary and middle school aged wrestlers instills the fundamentals needed to succeed later as well as the work ethic.
Hopkins noted that wrestling for Feist for so long has also created a bond with the coach.
So, by the time a wrestler gets to the high school, they know Feist and they know more than just basics of shooting and take downs, how to find their base and escape from an opponent.
And that’s a tremendous advantage, Palmer said, because they walk into the wrestling room and “we do a lot of hard drilling.”
“I feel like we’re always ready,” Hopkins said. “We have to train. We can’t expect to be ready.”
And even though Tahoma hasn’t lost a South Puget Sound League North dual meet in more than three years, Palmer said, “we can’t expect anybody to hand it to us.”
Tahoma will be tested early and often this season, taking on defending 4A state champs Lake Stevens along with Snohomish Saturday at home.
The Bears will also travel to the annual Tri-State tournament. Tahoma will also take on Mead and Moses Lake at Moses Lake with the Spokane-based school looking to be another primary obstacle standing between it and its first state crown since 1996.
Plus, Senior Night will feature a tough SPSL North 3A team in Enumclaw, which hasn’t lost a dual meet in more than six years and that was to Tahoma.
“A lot of our teammates have the drive for it,” Hopkins said of a state title. “They want it more.”
Senior Dan Haniger, who placed fourth at state last year at 135 pounds, said Tahoma has lofty goals that are realistic for a squad with the kind of depth the Bears possess.
“We definitely want to capture the SPSL dual meet title,” Haniger said. “We have lost a dual meet in three years. We have to keep the focus and intensity.”
That shouldn’t be hard, though, since Tahoma wrestling practices are notoriously rigorous Haniger added, stating, “Our practices are more intense than they’ve ever been.”
Haniger plans to wrestle at 145 this year.
Jesse Vaughan, who could go at 124 or 132, explained that last year Tahoma was young and an expected top-three finish at Mat Classic didn’t quite work out due to the lack of experience.
“Last year we did a really good job of getting a lot of kids to state,” Vaughan explained. “This year we need to win matches to get points.”
A ninth place finish was a result of struggles after the first round though five Tahoma wrestlers placed. And Lake Stevens was on fire last year at the tournament.
“It needs to be more of a team effort,” Haniger said. “We have 10 to 12 kids who can place. We need 10 to place and three or four others to win matches and get points.”
Vaughan said, “We’re working harder than we ever have and we’re not going to let this opportunity slip.”
Tim Whitehead, who placed eighth at 103 last year, said Tahoma can not only win league but also district and regionals again as it did a year ago.
And the challenging schedule should set Tahoma up for success.
“All the traveling around, we see wrestling from all over and that definitely will help us get ready for state,” Whitehead said. “At state last year we had a lot of young, inexperienced guys and I think that pressure got to them. There’s a lot of pressure at that tournament.”
Garret Autrey, who placed seventh at 160 and will wrestle at that weight this year, explained that the Lake Stevens dual will be a measuring stick for Tahoma.
“We’re definitely going to be state contenders,” Autrey said. “Lake Stevens as our first dual, I’m sure that’ll get us ready for league. And we didn’t have any seniors last year go to state, so, all of those state placers… are returning this year.”
And don’t take their word for it. Just look at the Washington Wrestling Report, washingtonwrestlingreport.com, which has Bears wrestlers ranked in all but two of the 14 weight classes. In some classes there are two Tahoma competitors ranked, for example in 126, Hopkins is ranked No. 1 while sophomore Cruz Velazquez is ranked 10th or at 132 pounds, where Palmer is the top ranked wrestler and Vaughan is ranked fifth.
No doubt Tahoma is stacked and ready to bring home the 4A state wrestling crown in February.
Contact Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor Kris Hill at email@example.com or (425) 432-1209, ext. 5054.