After his Panther team climbed up on the podium Saturday night to celebrate its first 4A Northwest District championship in over a decade, Zabel was on the other side of the gym being interviewed. Suddenly the 28 members of the team sprinted across the black and orange wrestling mats of Monroe High School toward their coach. The rush of wrestlers swept Zabel off his feet, lifting the ninth-year coach into the air. The ebullient Panthers held their coach over their heads and yelled triumphantly.
Zabel may not have seen his team coming after the tournament was over, but he was not surprised that Snohomish won the first district crown since 1999 by a team not named Lake Stevens. The Panthers' 404 points were 99 better than Lake Stevens in second place. Most people outside of Snohomish would call it a huge upset.
"Nobody, maybe expected this but the kids and coaches in our room," Zabel said. "This has been on the board for awhile."
Ammon Morrill, who won the 160-pound title with a 7-0 decision over Arlington's Shawn Berg, thinks the team first entertained the possibility of district win a month ago when the Panthers narrowly lost a dual meet to the Vikings.
"We noticed that we were way deeper than them and our JV destroyed their JV," said the senior, who is ranked third in the state at 160 according to Washington Wrestling Report. "We just came in here knowing that we were going to win. We just did work and had fun."
As much as the Panthers planned on winning, lifting their coach wasn't planned.
"We just like to have fun," Morrill said. "We are really close as a team, which is one of the reasons why we are good this year. We love to do things together. That was something just on the fly, having fun."
Morrill was one of three Panthers to take home individual crowns along with Luke Reinhard who pinned Stanwood's Carlos Vilchis to win the 220-pound class and Steven Speer, who won the 120-pound title by a decision over Stanwood's Josh Langstaff.
The team crown wasn't won by a few individuals however, 22 of Snohomish's 28 wrestlers finished in the top eight spots (which score points). Lake Stevens had four individual champions but couldn't match the Panthers' depth.
Perhaps no one exemplified the Panthers team title more than Geno Obregon, who finished third at 113 pounds. Entering the match Obregon was ranked seventh in the state, but got pinned by Lake's Zach Cunningham (unranked) in his first bout during Friday's preliminaries. Undaunted, Obregon rattled off five straight wins over the two-day tournament, including a 16-6 decision over Cunningham to finish in third place. The top five finishers in each class advance to next week's regionals to be held at Cavalero Mid High School in Lake Stevens.
"When we get together it's like family," Obregon, a sophomore said. "When it's family, you love each other and you take care of each other. When someone needs help running to cut weight, you go with them. We're just helpful."
Lake Stevens coach Brent Barnes was disappointed that his teams 13-year streak was gone, but was quick to give credit to Snohomish.
"Snohomish did a great job," Barnes said. "They really showed great depth and excellent work for them this weekend. They had a great tournament.
"As far as the Vikings are concerned, I'm happy with our (four) champs we've got going through. We've got some work to do (before regionals), but we'll see what happens."
The story on the first day of the tournament was that two of Lake Stevens top rated wrestlers didn't end up in the brackets. Senior Dakota Reynolds (No. 3 in state at 113) and junior Jessie Peterson (No. 2 at 120) were nowhere to be found.
"They didn't wrestle because they chose not to be on the team," Barnes said Saturday.
The coach seemed puzzled by the situation but chose not to elaborate further. "It's really uncommon."
A pleasant surprise for the Vikings was Ryan Olliges, who fought possibly the toughest final with Snohomish's Peter St. Marie. Olliges held off St. Marie, who was ranked No. 2 in the state, with a 3-1 decision.
"He beat me earlier in the season," Olliges said. "It's nice to come back and beat him when it matters … I think I'll see him again."
Lake Stevens' other individual champions were Brandon Johnson (285), Kinsey Johnson (138) and Eric Soler (126).
Arlington's Blake McPherson (ranked fourth in the state) held off Snohomish's Nathan Proffit (ranked third) with a 9-6 decision in the 195-pound final that kept the senior's undefeated record intact.
"I hate to lose, so it helps me, actually, knowing that I'm undefeated, I wrestle harder," said the senior who recently signed a letter of intent to play football and participate in track and field at Army next fall.
After the mats were rolled up, Zabel, couldn't speak more highly of his team's hard work, but was guarded against projecting what this means for the final two weeks of the wrestling season.
"It's a delicate balance," Zabel said. You want your kids to feel good about what they've accomplished, but at the same time you don't want them to feel as though we are on easy street now. We definitely have some work to do. We've got to get better this next week and make sure we are ready to go next week.
"I know that Lake's going to be ready and I know that some of the schools from down south are going to be ready."
At Monroe High School
106--Noah Cuzzetto (E-W) pinned David Garcia (K) 3:21; 113--Joshua Heitzman (K) dec. Jorge Escobedo (C) 5-2; 120--Steven Speer (SN) dec. Josh Langstff (ST) 12-6; 126--Eric Soler (LS) tec. fall Killian Page (MP) 16-1; 132--Cristian Mendoza (MP) dec. Mick Majors (LS) 8-5; 138--Kinsey Johnson (LS) tec. fall Andrew Villalobos (MA) 18-2; 145--Drew Hatch (MP) inj. def. Matthew Cuzzetto (EW); 152--Zach Schut (ST) maj. dec. Tanner Perry (SN) 11-1; 160--Ammon Morrill (SN) dec. Shawn Berg (AR) 7-0; 170--Zack Perez (EW) dec. Kyle Bennett (ST) 7-5; 182--Ryan Olliges (LS) dec. Peter St. Marie (SN) 3-1; 195--Blake McPherson (AR) dec. Nathan Proffit (SN) 9-6; 220--Luke Reinhard (SN) pinned Carlos Vilchis (ST) 5:09; 285--Brandon Johnson (LS) dec. George Johanson (EW) 5-1.
1. Snohomish 404.0; 2. Lake Stevens 305.0; 3. Edmonds-Woodway 237.5; 4. Stanwood 214.0; 5. Marysville-Pilchuck 202.5; 6. Arlington 161.0; 7. Kamiak 145.0; 8. Cascade 137.0; 9. Jackson 78.0; 10. Mariner 71.5; 11. Monroe 63.0.
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