A cut above the rest

Barnes has built a premier wrestling program at Lake Stevens

By JOHN McDONALD

Prep Editor

LAKE STEVENS — In his third year as a high school wrestling coach, Brent Barnes won a state championship.

At the time, he had no idea how hard it would be to win another.

Barnes did win a second state title last winter, 10 years after his first. Along the way he transformed Lake Stevens into one of the nation’s elite programs.

The Vikings, who were ranked as high as 25th in the national coaches’ poll last season, began their climb under Barnes’ tutelage 13 years ago when the Oklahoma State product, who grew up in Puyallup, began his teaching/coaching career at Lake Stevens after a year as an assistant coach at Bethel.

The son of former Puyallup wrestling coach Ray Barnes, Barnes knew early on that he wanted to teach, coach and build a premier wrestling program.

"My mom was a teacher, too," Barnes said. "They were my role models."

Exposed to elite programs as a wrestler at North Idaho College and Oklahoma State, Barnes knew what it would take to achieve that level of success.

"John Owen (of North Idaho) is one of the most successful college coaches in the country. He has won nine or 10 national titles," Barnes said of the junior college in Coeur d’Alene. "He instilled that attitude in me and gave me the insight to build a good program."

The first thing he knew he had to do was surround himself with as many quality assistants as possible. At Lake Stevens, he was in luck in that regard. Some of the people who have been or still are with him include Dean Width, former Lakewood head coach Walt Arnold, current Cascade head coach Sherm Iversen, Bob Ingram and Andy Knutson.

In order to provide some continuity for the wrestlers who would be coming through his program, Barnes got the middle school coach, Width, on the varsity staff as an assistant.

"I wanted to get him involved at the high school," Barnes said. "That was a huge step."

The district now has two middle schools and both middle school coaches are high school assistants.

Then Barnes, his staff and his wrestlers set out to out-work everybody. Three years later, they earned their first state championship. Ten years after that, their second.

"I have a lot more appreciation for the second one," Barnes said. "I now know how much work it takes to win a state title and how much luck. I’ve been very fortunate to have good kids."

One of those kids is his own son, Burke, a junior who won state titles as a freshman (115 pounds) and a sophomore (125 pounds). Burke is also a double national champion (freestyle and Greco-Roman) at 121 pounds in the 15-16-year-old age group.

"One plus in all of this is that my son was involved in all the off-season stuff I did," Barnes said. "When I was at camps, he was with me. When I did freestyle, he was with me. He wrestled in a lot of those tournaments. I was fortunate he liked the sport and really took to it. Not all coaches’ sons like or excel at what their father does. I was lucky mine did both."

Burke has a chance to become a four-time state champion, a feat achieved so far only by R.A. Long’s Pat Conners. But he said wrestling has always been fun for him. He never felt any outside pressure to succeed. His first trip to regionals as a 10-year-old was primarily a family vacation to Disneyland.

"I’ve always been pretty confident," Burke said. "I’d been there (state) so many times before, when I went as a freshman, I was ready. I’d already wrestled in a lot of tournaments just as big or bigger."

One of the things Lake Stevens does that other programs don’t is travel. Barnes loves to surf wrestling sites on the Internet. One such search yielded an invitation to the prestigious Virginia Duals, a national meet for college and high school teams. This season the Vikings are also traveling to Pennsylvania on successive weekends to participate in two more elite events, including the National Duals.

"We found out we can compete at that level," Barnes said.

Having a national champion on the roster leads to those kind of invitations. And participating in those meets helps build a national reputation. But Barnes said Lake Stevens owes a lot to its local competition, as well.

The Vikings compete in perhaps the toughest wrestling league and district in the state. Western Conference 3A and Northwest District wrestlers won seven of 13 championships at last season’s state meet. They also had six seconds and six thirds among their 30 placements.

Barnes said the focus should always be on that state meet.

"The main goal is how you finish in the end," Barnes said. "The goal is to get each kid as far as he can go. The goal, team-wise, is to make a run at the state title."

He’s done it twice before. Don’t bet against him doing it again.

Capsule previews of area high school wrestling teams appear today on Page XX.

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