After a year of battling each other for high school wrestling supremacy and individual freestyle and Greco-Roman glory, eight local wrestlers will come together with 32 of Washington’s best to go for gold at the USA Wrestling Cadet National Duals this week.
And they’ll be battling the rest of the United States on home turf.
For the first time in its 19-year history, the Cadet Duals, for wrestlers born in 2002 and 2003, will be held in Washington, at the Spokane Convention Center. The event starts Wednesday and runs through Saturday. The Greco-Roman competition occupies the tournament’s first two days, with freestyle finishing out the week.
Washington will be fielding two 17-man squads of wrestlers, plus six alternates for each, in a field that will include anywhere from 30-40 teams from around the country.
Washington finished sixth in both disciplines at last year’s event in York, Pennsylvania, with Stanwood sophomore Riley Van Scoy and Marysville Pilchuck sophomore Cayden White on the roster.
Darrington sophomore Johnny Franke competed at the National Schoolboy Duals in 2016, making him the third member of this year’s local contingent with experience in this type of event.
The newcomers are Monroe freshman Cole Lance, Lakewood sophomore John Seth, Cavelero Middle School eighth-grader Wyatt Springer, Granite Falls freshman Hayden Long, and Cedarcrest freshman Matthew Weinert.
They’re looking for an improvement at this year’s tournament.
“This group just seems really dedicated, and everyone, the first-strings and second-strings, they’re all beasts,” Van Scoy said at a satellite training session for local participants last week at Lake Stevens High School. “We all just want to win and we’re hungry for a national title.”
The state contingent has been together as a whole for only a weekend camp in Cusick in May.
Wrestlers qualified for Team Washington by placing in the top three at one of three qualifying tournaments earlier this year — the Washington State Wrestling Association’s freestyle and Greco-Roman tournaments in May, the USA Wrestling West Regional in April, or the Northwest Regional in March.
The Cadet Duals begin with bracketed pools of eight teams each. The top two teams from each pool advance to the championship bracket.
The remaining teams slug it out in consolation brackets for the lower placing matches.
The two top teams in the championship bracket square off in a best-of-three series for the national championship.
“The level of competition is so high, and every dual — especially later in the tournament — is so close that every match is so important,” said WSWA Cadet director Mike Bundy, who won two state championships for Lake Stevens in 1987-1988 and is the head coach at North Central High School in Spokane. “I love the Duals because the kids are enemies all year long and wrestling against each other, but now they’re a team with a common goal. They fuel each other and are developing lifelong friendships with guys they’ve only known as rivals. And they know how big this is for the state.”
The WSWA has had to continually earn the respect of its more-publicized brethren in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but improved performances at the national level the past five years have made Washington’s legitimacy as an emerging power tough to deny.
Team Washington has placed in the top eight a combined eight times at the Cadet National Duals since 2013, including top-three finishes in both freestyle and Greco-Roman in 2015.
Bundy said he and fellow coaches Greg Ford, Brian Owen and Bruce Burnett will put out Washington’s strongest wrestlers at each of the 17 weight classes as one of the teams, with six or seven floating backups that can each cover multiple weights in case of injury.
The next best 17 will comprise the second team, with the same complement of backups. Each team member will wrestle 14-15 matches over the four days.
In addition to representing Washington and competing against the best wrestlers in the nation, being on the Cadet Dual team means extra exposure for each of its members.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments in the nation, and it gives you a chance to see what’s out there,” Van Scoy said. “It’s not only a great experience, but it can be an opportunity to help you with your future.”
It’s also an affirmation for each wrestler that all his hard work has placed him among the nation’s best, and it’s easy for the athletes to get swept up in the team-centric competition.