LAKE STEVENS — If the Lake Stevens wrestling team needs a boost at this weekend’s Mat Classic XXVIII, the Vikings can rely on Soler power.
Michael Soler has provided a spark for Lake Stevens since his arrival as a freshman. Now, the Lake Stevens senior is hoping to become just the 12th boys wrestler in the history of Mat Classic to be crowned a four-time individual state champion — one girl has also accomplished the feat — and the first to collect all four titles at the Class 4A level.
“That’s been my goal since I was 10 years old: to be a four-time state champ,” Soler said. “I think that’s all of our goals when we come into the program as freshmen.
“I’m just excited. It’s going to be really fun this weekend to go out and compete one last time in the Tacoma Dome with my teammates and try to bring home another team title. It’s going to be pretty sweet.”
State champions aren’t particularly rare at Lake Stevens, which has had one of those 11 four-time state champs. Former Viking Burke Barnes won individual titles at every state tournament from 1999-2002. However, unlike Barnes — who won three titles at 125 pounds — Soler has wrestled at a different weight class each year.
Soler’s first title, in 2013, came at 106 pounds. As a sophomore, he mastered the 113-pound weight class. Last year, he won a highly competitive 132-pound division. This weekend, Soler will wrestle at 170 pounds.
“I grew a lot this summer,” he said.
His experience grappling at the lower weights gives Soler an advantage in the upper weight classes, according to Lake Stevens head coach Brent Barnes.
“He has the style of wrestling of a little guy that he can take to the upper weights,” Brent Barnes said. “Honestly, the wrestling doesn’t necessarily get better as you move up in the weights. You have kids that do more sports and are maybe just three-month wrestlers who are really good athletes, where Michael’s wrestled at 132, where you have the bulk of the full-time wrestlers, so that’s really benefited him.
“He’s just got a great demeanor about him,” Barnes continued. “He’s a great young man. He’s got a good work ethic and he’s focused on what he does, but he smiles and has a good time with his work. He’s pretty special.”
Michael’s older brother Eric won two state titles with the Vikings, including a 145-pound championship his senior season. That same year, Michael started his championship streak.
“It’s awesome for him and his family,” Barnes said. “It’s just really cool that we got the opportunity to work with this guy. Not because of the state titles, but because of what kind of kid he is. That’s way more important than the championships. He’s just one of those kids that you’d love to have stick around. I wish they made him like that all the time.”
In fact, Soler is so well respected that even opponents will be rooting for him this weekend.
“Everything I hear from everybody about him is nothing but positive. There’s no negatives on the kid at all,” said Sherm Iversen, who coaches Lake Stevens’ Wesco 4A rival Jackson. “I wish the best for him. I really hope he wins that fourth title and I feel strongly that he will.”
Fellow Lake Stevens senior Jake Douglas, one of Soler’s longtime friends, said having the three-time state champ around improves everyone on the team. It also shows the Vikings what it takes to reach that level of success.
“It definitely gives everyone someone to look up to as a prime example,” Douglas said. “Being a four-time state champ is every kid’s dream and goal going into it. And having him as a partner my whole life has made me better every day. Every year I’ve made drastic improvements because I’ve gotten to wrestle with him.”
About the only thing that hasn’t gone Soler’s way at Mat Classic over the past three years was last season, when Moses Lake edged Lake Stevens by four points for the team title. The Vikings had won the previous two team championships and six of the past nine 4A titles.
“We won state my freshman and sophomore year and going into my junior year it was like, ‘Oh, we’re expected to win state. It’ll just happen,’” Douglas said. “It always just happened when we were younger so we never really understood what it meant to go wrestle for it or have that as a goal. This year it’s cool to have that feeling to go out there and wrestle for something bigger than yourself.”
Soler wants to get his fourth title for many reasons, but one of the biggest is to help his team get back on top.
“I really want to get that team title so I’m going to try to get as many points as I can for my team,” Soler said. “I think we have a good shot right now, looking at the brackets. Hopefully, we perform Friday and Saturday and bring it home.”
Barnes said Soler doesn’t really battle nerves. Having been to Mat Classic three times, he is used to the atmosphere and level of competition at the state tournament.
“Yeah, I’ve gone through it a lot. I’m pretty ready for it,” Soler said. “I know what it’s going to take this weekend and how I’m going to prepare. I’ve done it three other times. You just take each match one at a time and go out and compete as hard as you can.”
Soler doesn’t know where, or even if, he will wrestle in college. His sole focus is on Mat Classic and ending his high school career the same way it began — with a state championship.
“As of now, it hasn’t really hit me. It just feels like another (day),” he said. “I think I’ll really try to take it in this weekend … and really experience it for the last time and enjoy it. It’d be awesome to win. I’m going to try to get it. There’s not much you can do besides work hard and prepare for it.”