Cascade’s Kaige Bunsngeam (left) wrestles teammate Chris Shaffer during a Wednesday practice session in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Cascade’s Kaige Bunsngeam (left) wrestles teammate Chris Shaffer during a Wednesday practice session in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Cascade grappler refuses to be denied

Chris Shaffer overcomes obstacles to clinch 1st Mat Classic berth.

The pinnacle of Cascade High School senior wrestler Chris Shaffer’s athletic career so far came more than two years ago. He was a sophomore and helped the Archbishop Murphy football team win a 2A state championship.

Since then, Shaffer’s been craving another championship opportunity like the one he’ll receive this Friday and Saturday during Mat Classic XXXI at the Tacoma Dome.

It’s been a waiting game that’s provided plenty of motivation for the 182-pound wrestler and three-sport athlete, who transferred from Archbishop Murphy to Cascade after his sophomore year. Transfer rules prohibited Shaffer from playing sports as a junior, and following a disappointing senior football season, Shaffer was ready to pour all he had into his final year of wrestling.

“(In my) first year as head guy at Cascade, the biggest thing I was looking for was leadership from our wrestlers,” Bruins wrestling coach Phil Brandstatter said. “Chris started out just being a very vocal leader. I was really looking for someone to do that, and he ended up being a co-captain.”

For Shaffer, despite being new to the Cascade wrestling team, the desire to lead came naturally.

“We won a state championship at Archbishop Murphy and (leading) is something I pride myself in,” Shaffer said. “Knowing what it takes to win a championship is something that only someone who has won has experienced.”

It’s perhaps Shaffer’s competitive drive that has him at Mat Classic for the first time in his career. His season ended in the regional tournament his freshman and sophomore years at Murphy, and a shoulder injury during his first match this season got him off to a slow start.

But despite being unseeded during the 4A District 1 sub-regional tournament on Feb. 1-2, Shaffer refused to be denied a regional tournament berth. The 182-pounder won three straight matches in the consolation bracket before earning the fourth and final seed into regionals.

“The way Chris went after it, he went in with the goal in mind he wasn’t going to let himself be stopped by anything,” Brandstatter said.

Certainly, entering the regional as the No. 4 seed from his sub-regional — and competing in a tough 182-pound bracket — would have made qualifying for Mat Classic a challenge for Shaffer. With snow hammering much of Washington and statewide regionals being canceled last week, the WIAA’s decision to implement 32-wrestler brackets instead of the usual 16 sent Shaffer to Mat Classic for the first time.

No matter how Mat Classic XXXI turns out, Shaffer’s excited to compete with the state’s best and to do so in front of his parents and especially his twin brother, Jon Shaffer.

Chris and Jon have been wrestling together since the pair were eighth graders at Evergreen Middle School. The two have been inseparable on the mat as wrestling partners, with Jon wrestling at 195, but a torn labrum during football season ended Jon’s wrestling career.

So Chris is wrestling for more than just himself.

“It’s indescribable just to have someone there to push me,” Chris said of Jon, who attends nearly all Cascade wrestling activities. “When we do sprints in practice and are working hard and when it’s time to get things done, I look at my brother, and I know I’m not just wrestling for myself. I’m wrestling for both of us.”

Jon will be in Chris’ corner come Friday, and while winning another state championship in the Tacoma Dome will be a tall task, Chris hopes to represent his family and Bruin wrestling well.

“It’s such a great opportunity to go to the Tacoma Dome and have family come and watch you wrestle,” Chris said. “There are more kids this year, and it’s going to be a great experience. I’m excited.”

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