After returning to the wrestling mat following a one-year layoff, Raymon Yee needed just 28 seconds to prove he hadn’t lost his skills.
That’s how quickly Yee, a Mariner High School senior, pinned his first opponent this season. It marked an exciting and unlikely return for Yee, who last season quit the team.
Yee showed great potential as a sophomore, placing eighth in the 125-pound weight class at the 2006 Class 4A state championships. But when his junior season rolled around, he felt his passion for the sport fade.
“I really needed a break,” Yee said.
He left the team a few weeks into the season and spent time pursuing other interests. He took guitar lessons and devoted countless hours to playing the hugely popular “World of Warcraft” video game online.
When the current wrestling season began, Yee still had no plans to rejoin the squad. But a pivotal talk with Mariner assistant coach Matt Krier changed everything.
Curious to see how his former teammates were doing, Yee showed up for Mariner’s home meet against Jackson on Dec. 13. Before the varsity meet started he chatted with Krier.
“He just said, ‘Oh Raymon, I miss you.’ And I was like, ‘I miss you too,’” Yee recalled.
The senior suddenly realized he yearned for the bonding experiences he once shared with teammates.
“I didn’t really miss wrestling,” Yee said, “because I’ve been doing it since the third grade and got completely tired of it, but I missed hanging out with the guys.”
So Yee returned to the team. He’s been a key contributor for the Marauders ever since, winning 11 of 12 matches and earning a No. 3 state ranking at 145 pounds (Class 4A) from Washington Wrestling Report.
Yee could play a crucial role tonight when Mariner travels to Mukilteo and battles the Kamiak Knights for the Western Conference South Division dual-meet title. Both squads are 7-0 in league meets entering the highly anticipated regular-season finale between the Mukilteo School District rivals. The action starts at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to come down to getting pins and not getting pinned. That’s what’s going to make it so exciting. It could go either way real quick,” said Mariner coach Otto Olson, whose team defeated Kamiak 37-22 last season to complete its second consecutive undefeated dual-meet season and win its third division title in four years.
Yee (11-1) is expected to wrestle Kamiak sophomore Nate Regan (23-8) at 145.
It’s good to have Yee back, said Mariner co-captain Karl Bush, a 140-pounder who often trains against Yee.
“He kind of gives the whole team and everyone around him a boost because (he is) just another (talented) guy to work with. He really pushes you,” said Bush, a two-time state placer.
“It kind of sucked to lose him,” Bush added, “but he came back this year even more into it, so maybe it was a good thing for him to take a break.”
One would expect Yee to have been rusty or out of shape when he returned to the mat, but he frequently worked out while he was away from the team. His endurance is still an issue, but Yee’s moves are as good as ever, Olson said.
“It’s like second nature to me,” Yee said. “I can’t even forget them if I tried.”
Bush, his training partner, agreed: “He hasn’t lost anything. He’s right back up there where he used to be.”
More important than Yee’s physical condition is his improved maturity, said Krier, the Mariner assistant coach.
“He’s a full-grown adult now. He realizes there’s more to life than video games. It’s kids like that that keep you coaching. He has made the whole season worth it,” Krier said.
If he wrestles to his potential, Yee appears to have a strong chance to earn a top-eight placing at next month’s state meet. None of that matters much, though, he said.
“I just don’t want to wrestle like garbage,” he said. “I don’t want to do too bad, but a (state) title doesn’t mean anything to me. Why would I quit if it did?”
Yee — who excels, according to his coaches, because of quick feet, hard work and sound technical skills — is jarringly honest about his view on tonight’s showdown with Kamiak. It’s much more important to his teammates, he said.
“It means a lot to them, but I don’t care at all. I just want to wrestle my (match) and I don’t really care if we win or not,” Yee said. “I hang out with the guys and do it for the fun, not for the title.”
Regardless of how the season ends, this is it for Yee. He said he has no plans to wrestle after high school. The recipient of a Washington State Achievers scholarship, a financial-aid prize designed by the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation to create opportunities for low-income students, Yee would like to study nutrition at the University of Washington or Western Washington University.
A year from now, wrestling might no longer have a place in Yee’s life. But his decision to return to the sport and reconnect with peers and coaches will have a lasting effect.
Said Krier, “He missed a year of wrestling, but he grew up because of it.”
Contact Herald Writer Mike Cane at email@example.com. For more high school sports news, check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.