Tahoma wrestlers fight for fifth in state | Slideshow

It’s 5:45 p.m., two days after the slight disappointment of a fifth place finish at the state wrestling tournament. The Tahoma wrestlers are back on the mats preparing for the freestyle season.

There had already been time for minor celebrations — applauding senior 126-pounder Cruz Velasquez’s trip to the finals and relishing a future that involves three freshmen who placed in the ultra-competitive 4A field.

But for a program that has now placed in the top nine for 20 of the last 25 years, there is little room to relax.

“We’re not going to settle,” said head coach Chris Feist. “That’s not who we are.”

After finishing first in state as a team in 2012 and second in 2013, the Bears grapplers dropped to fifth in the 2014 Mat Classic held in the Tacoma Dome on Feb. 21-22. Their score of 100.5 fell one point behind Central Valley for fourth. Lake Stevens rolled to the top of the 4A rankings with a team total of 133.

Feist was pleased with how his team competed, but knew they had opportunities for bonus points throughout the tournament.

“They gave their best effort,” Feist said. “We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We get better and we move on.”

Feist said every team has goals to win state and that the key is execution.

“You get what you train for,” Feist said. “We were a fifth place team this year. There are no gifts in this sport.”

Velazquez, a senior, led the group with a second-place medal, upping his previous third- and fourth-place finishes.

Sporting a freshly manicured Mohawk, the aggressive grappler stormed through the opening round, pinning his first opponent. He gutted through a pair of two point victories to the finals, where he fell 3-1 to Pasco’s returning state champion Timmy Martinez.

Cruz credited his uptick this year to a more smooth and methodical approach, which was evident before his first match, as he walked around with a smile, shaking the hands of event staff outside his mat.

Fellow seniors Justin Weiding and Tucker Mjelde finished their prep careers on high notes, winning third place matches. After failing to place in the tournament his freshman and sophomore years, Mjelde went into the meet looking to make memories.

“When you know everything is your last, it’s more fun rather than nerve-racking,” Mjelde said prior to the tournament.

Beyond direct results on the mat, the punishing Tahoma wrestling standards helped get Cooper Thomas’s life back in order. Thomas, who finished seventh at 195 pounds, said he lost sight of his goals while taking a break from the mat his freshman and sophomore years. By regularly devouring an entire DiGorno pizza as a snack, mixed with a growth spurt, his weight ballooned from 170 to 310 pounds.

To train for wrestling, he ran and cut gluten from his diet, trimming 115 pounds.

“I was tired of being out of shape,” Thomas said. “I was trying to regain my life a little bit.”

Throughout the year, Feist preached the valuelessness of rankings — how a lonely guy in a Seattle basement that puts together a wrestling hierarchy for an online forum is not a definitive assessment of any team.

“We don’t let other people define us,” Feist said. “Rankings put you in the ballpark, but you’ve still got to wrestle the match.”

With the high school season finished, Feist and company will regroup for next year — immediately.

“We’ve got another year before we’ve got to do it again and we get to work starting tonight,” Feist said.


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