Snohomish County’s returning state wrestling champions, Alex Rapelje of Edmonds-Woodway (left) and Alivia White of Marysville Pilchuck (right). (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Snohomish County’s returning state wrestling champions, Alex Rapelje of Edmonds-Woodway (left) and Alivia White of Marysville Pilchuck (right). (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Local pair head to Mat Classic XXXIII seeking repeat titles

E-W’s Alex Rapelje and MP’s Alivia White return to Tacoma nearly two years after their first state-championship victories.

It’s been nearly two years since Edmonds-Woodway’s Alex Rapelje and Marysville Pilchuck’s Alivia White had their hands raised after winning state titles in the Tacoma Dome.

Rapelje, then a sophomore, and White, then a freshman, were two of six Snohomish County student-athletes to claim state championships at Mat Classic XXXII in 2020.

At the time both imagined they’d be back one year later with an opportunity to be two-time champs.

“It means I’m going to get two more,” Rapelje told The Herald after winning his title.

“I want to be a four-timer,” White told The Herald after winning hers.

A chance for another title the following year never came due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this weekend Rapelje and White finally get their opportunity to add another championship to their resumes.

Boys and girls wrestlers from across the state make the trip to the Tacoma Dome on Friday for Mat Classic XXXIII. Day 1 of the event starts at 10 a.m. with matches running through the quarterfinals. Day 2 on Saturday kicks off with semifinal bouts at 10 a.m. and finals scheduled for 3 p.m.

Rapelje and White carry the banner for Snohomish County as the area’s two returning champions.

“I just feel very lucky to compete,” said Rapelje, who noted he watched many friends miss out on their final chance at a state wrestling tournament last season.

Rapelje won his Class 3A state title as a sophomore at 138 pounds by beating Prairie’s Justin Wilcox by a 4-2 decision.

The E-W senior enters this week’s state tournament as the top-ranked wrestler in 3A at 152 pounds by Washington Wrestling Report. He’s looking for his third overall state medal after also taking fourth at 120 pounds as freshman.

Warriors coach Brian Alfi said Rapelje’s success on the mat is the product of his work ethic and well-rounded skill set.

“He’s really strong in a lot of different positions,” Alfi said. “I don’t know what I would say he does exceptionally well. It’s more a lack of holes. … He’s tough, he’s got a motor, but he stays in really good position and is really aggressive in the same breath.”

Rapelje, whose dad and grandfather also wrestled, got his introduction to the sport with Rhinos Wrestling when he was 5 years old. And though he spent nine months of the year wrestling with the club until high school, Rapelje said his freshman year was when his passion for the sport really started to grow.

Alfi said he saw Rapelje “turn it up a notch” midway through that season.

Rapelje said he expects strength will be a bigger factor while wrestling at 152 this year. He’ll also have to deal with a larger pool of competitors due to the abundance of schools in 3A after the latest statewide reclassification cycle. With 78 schools in the classification, 20 wrestlers are competing in each weight class compared to 16 in past years.

“To come out the champion of 78 schools, that’s a huge accomplishment,” Alfi said. “I think just the overall depth in 3A is going to be very difficult for all of our wrestlers, especially winning a state title for anybody.”

And while the wait for a chance to get back to the top of the podium has been long, Alfi noted his standout grappler has taken it all in stride.

“He does a really good job of living in the moment. I think that’s one thing I really appreciate about Alex,” Alfi said. “He works hard at practice every single day (and) doesn’t get too high or too low. He takes every match with the same intensity, and I think it really serves him well. It doesn’t matter where he’s at, he’s going to wrestle hard for six minutes. That’s a great attitude and great mindset.”

White’s girls state title at 190 pounds came after an impressive run.

She knocked off two-time defending state champion Ofa He Lotu Tuifua of Kent Meridian with a 13-10 decision in the semifinals and then scored a pin in 33 seconds into the championship match.

“It was crazy,” White said.

And though White was just a freshman, her ascent to a title didn’t come as a big surprise.

She was on the mats by the age of 6 and was regularly wrestling and beating boys by the time she was in middle school.

White earned All-America honors with a third-place finish at the 2019 Junior and Cadet National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, in the Cadet (16-and-under) women’s division at 164 pounds during the summer before her freshman year.

Her early start in the sport was in part due the influence of her older brother, Cayden, who won a state title in 3A at 182 pounds just minutes apart from his sister’s title in 2020. They became just the third brother-sister duo in state history to win state titles on the same day.

“What an emotional ride,” said Andrea White, the mother of Alivia and Cayden and girls wrestling coach at MP. “That was really magical. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing when the stars align like that.”

Alivia said impromptu wrestling matches with Cayden in the living room helped her early on.

“I had to defend myself,” she said laughing, “… I think that made me a bit tougher.”

The sport also created a strong bond between the two. Cayden, who now wrestles at Minot State University in North Dakota, still keeps up with his sister’s matches even though he’s over 1,000 miles away.

“He’s like my biggest supporter,” Alivia said. “… He’s always texting me everything he sees about me. He critiques my wrestling in a good way. He’s my biggest role model. I strive to be just like him.”

Alivia continued her strong showing on the national stage when she finished fourth in the Junior (grades 9-12) women’s division at Fargo at 180 pounds in 2021. She’s currently ranked third nationally at 180 pounds by USA Wrestling.

This season Aliva is a perfect 31-0 in matches and has won a handful of regular season tournaments, which included two first-round pins over second-ranked Delaney Cobbs of Burlington-Edison.

With a lethal combination of strength, technique and wrestling IQ, Alivia is set to be a heavy favorite to defend her title this weekend.

“It’s awesome,” Alivia White said of heading back to Mat Classic. “I’ve been training this whole last year and throughout the summer, so I feel like I’m still at the level I’ve been at if not even more ahead. I’m ready to go.”

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