TACOMA — Wrestling is an individual sport. At its heart, it is one competitor against another alone on the mat and supposedly nothing else outside the ring matters.
Don’t tell that to the Lake Stevens Wrestling team.
Saturday at Mat Classic XXV, the Vikings captured their fifth 4A state crown in seven seasons, besting defending champion Tahoma by a wide margin 162-120. Edmonds-Woodway was the next best local team in ninth place with 52 points. The Vikings will tell you they could never do it on their own.
“It is a team because you can’t get better by yourself.” Lake Stevens coach Brent Barnes said. “You can’t do it alone. That’s why these kids are good because they have each other.”
The Vikings had three individual champions and were the only local team with even three finalists. Heavyweight Brandon Johnson’s win in the 4A title bout capped the tournament.
“It’s huge,” Johnson said. “Individual state title is great, but a team state title where everybody worked and contributed to it? That’s awesome. Nothing like it.”
If any one of the Vikings had reason to take more pride in his individual performance it was Johnson. A year ago as a junior on the same stage he led Central Kitsap’s Kyle Lanoue 1-0 and nearly pinned the senior, but an escape sent the match to overtime where Johnson gave up a near fall and lost.
“When you come so close to something you want real bad and you don’t quite make the cut it pushes you 10 times harder than before,” Johnson said. “As soon as I stepped off the mat here I went into training again.”
Johnson hasn’t lost a high school bout since, which is a first at the 285-pound class according to Barnes.
“For him to do that on our schedule is pretty phenomenal,” Barnes said. “He’s a good heavyweight.”
He was good enough to lift Barnes up off the mat and embrace the long-time coach after what seemed like a parade in the form of a 7-3 decision against South Kitsap’s Damien Medeiros who Johnson had beaten twice previously including last weeks regional tournament.
“He’s a great kid and he works really hard,” Barnes said. “He’s put a lot of time in the sport. He’s been a good leader for us and he’s big. He’s a huge human being.”
Barnes said it was the first time a wrestler has picked him up. Saturday was also the first time that Barnes coached brothers both to state titles — Michael and Eric Soler.
Michael, a freshman, won at 106 pounds, and Eric, a senior, won at 145 pounds.
Michael Soler, wrestling in his first Mat Classic opened, the championship round with a relatively easy 8-3 decision over Moses Lake’s Trey Long. He wasn’t sure how it would feel after watching his older brother get his first title last year as a junior.
“It was incredible,” Michael said. “I’ve never felt this proud. It all paid off. It’s more of a relief I think actually.”
He said that he felt pressure during the regular season, but was able to escape the pressure at the Tacoma Dome.
“I really felt it earlier in the season,” he said. “But I just kind of took it off myself and went out there and wrestled.”
The younger Soler was the tip of the spear of the freshman class that played a big part in the state crown and, according to Barnes, made this one of the unique teams that he’s coached.
“It’s just a good mix of old and young,” Barnes said of the four freshman and six seniors in his 14 state qualifiers. “Kids that get along and care about each other. It’s pretty awesome.”
One of the hardest fought individual wins came from Eric Soler at 145 pounds. He went up against another defending state titleist in the final. Ian Steen of Graham Kapowsin took a 2-0 edge after the second period and Soler earned an escape point in the third. With 12.7 seconds to go in the match, he got a timely reversal for a 3-2 lead.
His strategy was simple.
“Stay in the match and then when it’s time to go just go,” Eric Soler said.
He went 1-1 against Steen during the regular season and used experience to his advantage. Over his career he’s also come back from injuries including an ACL tear, a sprained MCL and torn meniscus.
“I don’t know if I’ve coached as good a competitor as Eric,” Barnes said. “He seems to have a flair for the dramatic. He finds a way and you have to be pretty special to find a way to get the job done.”
The Vikings briefly talked of going for the 4A record for points set by Tahoma last year (190), but ended up not having enough wins.
Still, the team was proud of the overall victory.
“It means a lot, especially as a captain I’m responsible,” Eric Soler said. “I feel like I didn’t do my job last year when we took fifth. We just weren’t where we needed to be. People were getting in trouble and a couple kids didn’t make weight. That was kind of on me because I was really looking after everyone.”
Freshman AJ Crew was runnerup to Michael Soler in the district 1 tourney but, his hopes of a rematch in the finals in Tacoma were dashed when he lost a 7-2 decision in the semifinals. He finished with a close 4-2 loss to Eastmont’s Fabian Wickham to take fourth.
At 120 pounds, freshman Jake Douglas was pinned in the semifinals by Tahoma senior Tim Whitehead. He won one more match, but dropped a 4-2 decision to take home fourth place. At 138 pounds, senior Jesse Peterson lost to finalist Joshua Smith of Kent-Meridian in the second round, but rallied to take fifth place with a pin. Blake Sander took home seventh place at 160 pounds with a 5-3 OT win.
Sophomore Cody Vigoren made the semifinals at 170 pounds, but was thrown back by Chandler Rogers of Mead who pinned him Saturday morning. He won a 4-2 decision to advance to the third place final, but dropped a 3-2 decision and took fourth place.
Shaq Reed had never wrestled until his sophomore year and was just a participant in the Mat Classic last year. This year he breezed into the semifinals but ran into Wenatchee’s Kyle Lesmeister and dropped a 4-2 decision. He won his first consolation bout 6-1 but was pinned by Skyline’s Sean Mcalhaney.
At Tacoma Dome
Team scores: 1. Lake Stevens 162, 2. Tahoma 120, 3. Graham-Kapowsin 113.5, 4. Central Valley 93, 5. Mead 90, 6. Yelm 84, 7. Evergreen (Vanc.) 65, 8. Union 60, 9. Edmonds-Woodway 52, 10. Moses Lake 51, 11. Puyallup 50, 12. South Kitsap 48, 13. Pasco 40, 14. Eastmont 37, 15. Chiawana 37, 16. Skyline 34, 17. Kent Meridian 34, 18. Todd Beamer 32, 19. Rogers (Puyallup) 29, 20. OLYMPIA 29. Locals, 23. Snohomish 26, 31. Lynnwood 15, 33. Cascade (Everett) 14.5, 45. Arlington 7, 48. Kamiak 3, 51. Mariner 1.
Individual results (locals only)
Championship matches: 106—Michael Soler (Lake Stevens) def. Trey Long (Moses Lake) 8-3; 113—Noah Cuzzetto (Edmonds-Woodway) pinned Yelm’s Darren Harris 3:09; 145—Eric Soler (Lake Stevens) def. Ian Steen (Graham-Kapowsin) 3-2; 285—Brandon Johnson (Lake Stevens) def. Damien Medeiros (So. Kitsap) 7-3.
Semifinals: 106—Trey Long (Moses Lake) dec. AJ Crew (Lake Stevens) 7-2, Michael Soler (Lake Stevens) dec. Fabian Wickham (Eastmont); 113—Noah Cuzzetto (Edmonds-Woodway) dec. Matt Petrini (Mead) 10-2; 120—Tim Whitehead (Tahoma) pinned Jake Douglas (Lake Stevens) 3:31; 145—Eric Soler (Lake Stevens) pinned Clayton Smith (Chiawana) 5:30; 170—Chandler Rogers (Mead) pinned Cody Vigoren (Lake Stevens) 1:20; 220—Kyle Lesmeister (Wenatchee) dec. Shaq Reed (Lake Stevens) 4-2; 285—Brandon Johnson (Lake Stevens) dec. Ed Torres (Tahoma) 5-2.
Consolation rounds: 106—Crew dec. Nick Smith (Kentlake) 14-6, Fabian Wickham (Eastmont) dec. Crew 4-2; 120—Douglas dec. Walker Meyers (Kentwood) 8-4, Ramon Ortiz (Evergreen) dec. Douglas 4-2; 126—Cruz Velasquez (Tahoma) dec. Gino Obregon (Cascade) 5-1, Obregon dec. Haftom Tafere (Todd Beamer) 10-8; 132—Nathan Vulliet (Edmonds-Woodway) defeated Bryce Thomas (Arlington) by DQ, Adam Romano (Graham-Kapowsin) dec. Vulliet 1-0; Vulliet dec. Logan Pine 4-3, Dalton Meyers (Kentwood) injury default Thomas; 138—Corde Ferreira (Graham-Kapowsin) pinned Jesse Peterson (Lake Stevens) 1:56, Greg Eagle (Snohomish) dec. Joey Gurke (Skyline); Ferreira pinned Peterson 1:56, Peterson pinned Gurke 4:28; Ferreira dec. Eagle 6-4; 152—Adam Gascoyne (South Kitsap) dec. Tanner Perry (Snohomish) 8-7, Jeremiah Reynolds (Union) pinned Perry 3:54; 160—Hunter Lord (Lynnwood) dec. Blake Sander (Lake Stevens) 10-8, Sander dec. Chris McElroy (Tahoma) 5-3 OT, Lord dec. Mitchell Owens (Todd Beamer) 10-8, Mack Busey (Graham-Kapowsin) dec. Lord 6-2; 170—Vigoren dec. Bryce Broome (South Kitsap) 4-2, Darin Hardgrove (Eastmont) dec. Vigoren 3-2; 220—Reed dec. Mason Ju (Mead) 6-1, Sean McAlhaney (Skyline) pinned Reed 4:31; 285—Trent Nivala (Puyallup) dec. George Johanson (Edmonds-Woodway) 5-2, Johanson pinned Jonathan Norris (Issaquah) 1:30.