Everett High School's Jessie Lopez, the defending state champion at 132 pounds, decided earlier this year that he wanted to move up and wrestle in the loaded 145-pound bracket for his senior season. His goal: Take down some of the top wrestlers in the state.
His coach tried to talk him out of it.
"It was not my call to have him go 145. It was his call," Everett head coach Brien Elliott said. "I spent some time trying to talk him into going 138. But he had his mind made up. The competition's going to be a lot tougher. They're bigger, they're stronger."
Lopez lost to some of those top wrestlers earlier in his career, and wants to beat them one final time before he graduates, Elliott said.
"He wrestles with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He feels like he's not as respected like some of the other top wrestlers in the state," Elliott said. "He was beaten by them earlier when he was a freshman. He wants to prove to himself, mostly, and everyone else that he is as good as he has trained to be. If anything, this is more proving to himself that he's this good."
The challenge got a bit easier this past week, with news that defending 138-pound champion, and current 145-pound favorite, Lucas Somera of Enumclaw was injured during regionals. Still, Elliott insists the 145 bracket is still difficult, with Hudson Bay's Aaron Blaine -- who has wrestled at the national tournament in Fargo, N.D. -- now the favorite, along with Matt Yuste (Bonnie Lake), John Hoover (Mount Spokane) and Marysville Pilchuck's Killian Page.
Lopez, who finished third in the 119-pound weight class as a sophomore and seventh at 103 his freshman year, went 3-0 against Page this season. Elliott thinks that experience will boost Lopez's confidence, and pay dividends for his wrestler at this weekend's Mat Classic XXV.
"I respect Killian Page from Marysville. He's one of the top wrestlers I've seen in a while and just a big strong kid," Elliott said. "And Jessie's been able to pull out the wins over him the last few times they've wrestled, and Killian's a really tough kid. Based on the way he's wrestling with Killian, I have a lot of hope he'll be able to make it to the finals and do really well and pull out a win."
-- David Krueger
The Soler brothers go for the double
You've heard of Eric Soler -- at least you should have.
The Lake Stevens senior was a 4A individual state champion last year and is a three-time state placer. He also made an appearance in the award-winning documentary "On the Mat" about Lake Stevens' wrestling team. In his final season, he is ranked No. 1 entering Matt Classic XXV and will be a favorite to collect his second individual crown Saturday.
However, you might not have heard yet of his brother, Michael. Chances are that's going to change.
Michael Soler is a freshman, wrestling as a lightweight, is ranked No. 3 in his class and has a chance to join his brother atop the podium at the state tournament. His regional championship wasn't much of a surprise and he is undefeated this year against in-state competition. The younger Soler also is ready for the spotlight.
"It feels good to kind of follow in his footsteps," Michael said of his brother. "All my hard work is finally paying off. I've been wrestling since I was four years old. It's kind of rewarding now ... I want to see how I do on a bigger scale."
Michael was in Tacoma a year ago to watch Eric win, so the amazing spectacle that is Mat Classic will not likely intimidate him.
-- Jon Saperstein
Can Lake Stevens get back to normal?
With his teamsr winning four 4A state titles in the past six years, it takes a lot to get Lake Stevens coach Brent Barnes really fired up.
But his Vikings did just that at the 4A regional tournament last Saturday, collecting seven individual crowns and advancing 14 wrestlers to the state tournament. Barnes doesn't track the numbers every year, but this year's team already is special.
"That's got to be up there," Barnes said when asked how the size of his state tournament contingent compares to past years. "I don't know. I don't really keep track of that kind of stuff, but it's a great number of kids and a great number of champions."
Then he noted he was "pretty excited."
Lake Stevens has multiple wrestlers favored to win individual crowns and will be the favorite to take a fifth team title in seven years.
"I feel like we get ready pretty well in our room to make sure that at this time of the season we try and peak," senior heavyweight Brandon Johnson said. "So we plan it out that way ... at least our coaches keep saying we plan it out that way. It's been working. I'm excited for state and what's to come."
-- Jon Saperstein
Revenge can be a big motivator
Wrestlers going to Mat Classic XXV competed first in district and regional tournaments around the state the past two weekends the. Although they qualified for state, many didn't win their final matches and now could find themselves in rematches Mat Classic XXV.
That provides a little added motivation which sometimes can lead to the results being flipped. Granite Falls' Ryan Nash hopes so. The Tigers 120-pounder lost to Burlington-Edison's Eman Trujillo in the semifinals of the 2A Region I tournament and he's hoping for a rematch with Trujillo sometime this weekend.
"I definitely want to see (Eman) at Mat Classic," Nash said.
Other wrestlers hoping for rematches are Meadowdale's Morgan Smith, who lost to North Central's Bryson Pierce in the 3A Region I 160-pound final; Snohomish's Tanner Perry, who lost to South Kitsap's Adam Gascoyne in the 4A Region I 152 final; and Marysville Pilchuck's Ismael Perez, who lost to Stanwood's Garret Arrona in the 3A Region I final. Interestingly enough, Arrona's win over Perez avenged his lost to the Tomahawks wrestler in the district tournament the week before.
-- Aaron Swaney
Don't forget about the girls
Since becoming a Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association-sanctioned sport in 2007, girls wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds and Granite Falls' Danielle Crawford is one of the area's best girls wrestlers.
Crawford, who moved down from the 112-pound weight class, is 18-4 this season and is ranked No. 7 in the state in the most recent Washington Wrestling Report poll. She won the 106-pound championship at last weekend's Region 1 tournament.
"My goal is to win a state championship and I think my chances are really high," Crawford said.
In the spirit of Valentine's Day, Crawford will be spending Mat Classic near her boyfriend, fellow Granite Falls wrestler and state participant Tyler Groff. Groff won the regional title at 126 pounds last weekend.
"It's rare to have a couple dating who both won league and regionals and it really shows how big girls wrestling is getting," Granite Falls coach Tony Helgenson said.
The other local girls heading to Mat Classic include Lakewood's Tommie Mosteller (106), Darrington's Elesha Forrest (112); Stanwood's Shannon Gee (130); Lakewood's Allyson Lawton and Stanwood's Aubrey Butler (137); and Lake Stevens' Kelha Grow and Mariner's Jennifer Pohle (155).
-- Aaron Swaney
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