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Tahoma High’s wrestling team returns nine participants from Mat Classic, the state tournament
Tahoma is not going to defend its 4A state wrestling title.
That would imply the Bears are on their heels, waiting to be attacked, trying to recover.
No, Tahoma intends to be on the offensive this season, to go out and take another state championship on the mat.
“If we think we’re going to defend a title, we’re waiting for someone to come get us,” said junior Cruz Velasquez, a 132 pound wrestler.
Added fellow junior 132-pounder Sam Schuessler, “If we were defending then we wouldn’t be working this hard in practice.”
Having won the state title in 2012 means the Bears are quite aware they have a target on their backs.
“The pressure is building up because we want to be repeaters for our senior year,” said Matt Hopkins, who will wrestle at 220 pounds this season. “We have to go out there and take what we want. We can’t just sit back and say, ‘Hand us a trophy.’ Defensive wrestlers don’t win matches.”
Austin Perry, who will compete in the 195 pound weight class, said that even though Tahoma graduated a number of exceptional wrestlers including individual state champions the team is still strong.
“We still have a good front line this year,” Perry said. He participated at state in February. Hopkins, meanwhile, finished fourth.
This year, Perry said, he hopes to win an individual state title. He’s working on his cardiovascular endurance, something he felt hindered his performance in the post-season previously.
Both Perry and Hopkins are seniors. Their goals for the team go beyond continuing Tahoma’s unbeaten South Puget Sound League North dual meet undefeated streak, winning another regional championship or state title.
While those are part of the puzzle, the big picture is about building on the tradition of the Tahoma wrestling program.
Hopkins, who stands at 6 feet, 5 inches, wants to leave a legacy. He wants to help the underclassmen learn how to be good wrestlers and leaders so when it’s their turn they will step up to do the same.
Perry said, “I’m hoping when I leave they know they can do better than the year before.”
That attitude, both Hopkins and Perry said, comes from the example set by the coaching staff, particularly head coach Chris Feist who preaches the importance of the team being a family, the wrestlers treating each other like brothers, while still working hard and going out with intensity.
“On the mat (in practice) he’s not really your friend,” Perry said. “You beat him up but you love him.”
It’s that kind of preparation, said senior Tim Whitehead, which will help Tahoma go after the goals the team has its sights set on.
“We’ve got to stay focused,” Whitehead said. “We’ve got to keep up the intensity.”
Whitehead, who will wrestle at 126 this season, finished second at state last year.
Senior Garret Autrey, who will compete at 182 and placed third in state in February, said in order to repeat as champions this year at Mat Classic Tahoma needs to be prepared for the atmosphere of the tournament so they can earn points through the back door, as it’s called, or through placing not just in the top four but all the way through eighth.
Whitehead added that every wrestler who didn’t qualify to not only get to state but to place. Every guy can contribute that way.
“Especially because we don’t have any returning state champs like we did last year,” Autrey said. “Last year we worked on more of the lower placers. We need to do that again this year and focus on those guys.”
Team unity, Autrey said, will help with that. So will confidence.
“Last year we proved we can do it,” Autrey said of winning state. “We know we’re good enough. We’re not just going to drop off. People doubt us every year.”
Those doubters learn, Autrey said, because once they hit the mat with Tahoma they discover how hard the Bears work in the practice room.
And for those who don’t see that Tahoma has reloaded, Whitehead said, the Bears need to always remember to be on the offensive.
“Right now we’ve got a target on us,” Whitehead said. “We need to go out with the mindset that we’re taking it again.”
Each wrestler has goals for himself this season as well as all the bigger aspirations for the team.
Velasquez said he plans to work on his technique by increasing his fluidity as well as his intensity. He expects the same thing from the rest of the team.
“We’re an athletic team,” he said. “We’re a talented team.”
Schuessler wants to place in the top five at state this year. He’s working on his technique, too, trying to have an offensive mindset when the official’s whistle blows. He’s working specifically on fine tuning his attacks from the neutral position as well as scoring from the bottom position.
Velasquez and Schuessler recognize the importance of learning from Feist as well as the seniors who lead the team this year.
“Sam and I … next year will be the leaders who could rally the team,” Velasquez said. “If we work hard enough, not only could we win state this year, we could win it next year, too.”
Schuessler said he knows from his experience last year watching teammates who have since graduated that this season and next he needs to put in the best effort in the practice room to be a good role model but also by encouraging underclassmen when they’re struggling.
This year, Tahoma will go out and fight to repeat as state champions, but the wrestlers will walk away from the mat with much more than medals and trophies.
“Feist, he always tells us you can apply this go-getter attitude anywher,” Velasquez said.
Schuessler added, “Feist always says we’re student-athletes and students first. With wrestling I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned to be disciplined. I’ve learned to be persistent.”
No matter what happens, Schuessler said, win or lose, Tahoma will go after it.
The Bears are on the attack.