LAKE STEVENS — With one of its youngest teams in years, Lake Stevens finished seventh in the Class 4A team standings at Mat Classic last February, the only appearance outside the top five since 2002 for a program that has dominated the past two decades.
At some programs, it would be cause for major concern, maybe even panic.
But Vikings coach Brent Barnes, a newly minted Hall of Famer, said there was no period of mourning.
“We really just moved forward,” said Barnes, who joined his father, Ray, in the Washington State Coaches Association Hall of Fame in October. “We had a great year in terms of the kids we had, and we knew that we were young. It was a good season, a success. Of course, we’d like to place higher than that, but we had a lot of kids really step up.”
Barnes said this offseason, which saw the return of 11 state participants and four placers — led by reigning 170-pound state champion Malachi Lawrence — was one of the most productive of his 30-year career.
“It was one of the best we’ve had — ever,” he said. “We spent a large amount of time on the mat as a group, and it was quality time. When you’re doing work together, it’s easier to hold each other accountable.”
The young Vikings learned some tough lessons in the Tacoma Dome — seven of the 11 Vikings in the field wrestled two or three matches before being eliminated — but are back to set things right.
Lake Stevens should be plenty deep, but that depth has to perform at Mat Classic.
“The goal is to take a bunch of above-average kids and turn them into kids who could place in the top four or five at the state tournament,” Barnes said. “There are teams like us, like Tahoma and Curtis, who have a lot of firepower. It might take 10 placers to get the job done.”
Ally de la Cruz leads group of elite girls
Kamiak senior Ally de la Cruz followed up an undefeated junior campaign that ended with her first state championship by not wrestling at all between February and the start of practice for the 2017-18 season.
In the age of athletes focusing year-round on one sport, de la Cruz is a refreshing change.
“Ally is a three-sport athlete,” Kamiak coach Bryan Stelling said. “She swims and does track. She fully concentrates on whichever sport she’s in that season, and has been applying to colleges and stuff like that.”
There’s not much to tweak in the repertoire of a 36-0 state champion, but Stelling said the 155-pound de la Cruz is always searching for more moves.
“She really doesn’t have a bad position, but she’s always working on technique,” he said. “She picks up whatever I bring by her pretty quickly. The other day we were working on a specialty move called a ‘Kelly Turk,’ and she had no problem picking it up.”
Southern Oregon has contacted de la Cruz about wrestling there, but Stelling said she’s focused on her goal of becoming a physician and has looked into applying to a service academy.
The Kamiak star headlines a burgeoning class of elite girls wrestlers in the area that includes returning state-placers Kiley Hubby of Glacier Peak (third at 140), Snohomish’s Joessie Gonzales (fourth at 130), Granite Falls’ Karrah Smith (sixth at 145) and Mattea Potter (eighth at 125).
Van Scoy breaking out
Stanwood sophomore Riley Van Scoy made an emphatic statement in his first state tournament last season, finishing third at 138 pounds and soundly beating Arlington veteran Gavin Rork — a former freshman phenom himself — 8-3 in the third/fifth place bout.
Van Scoy built on that success in the offseason by traveling to different clubs in the area in search of the best training partners he could find.
“He challenged himself all spring and summer, and he’s matured into being a team leader,” Spartans coach Ray Mather said. “He’s taking a little bit of the things that he knows and is giving back, being an example and a mentor.”
Van Scoy represented Team Washington at the Cadet National Duals in York, Pennsylvania, in June, along with Marysville Pilchuck’s Cayden White, and both are candidates to top the podium at Mat Classic.
“The biggest compliment I could give Riley is that he grinds. He battles in there,” Mather said. “There’s not a lot that’s going to deter him, and there is not a fear factor of anyone he’s going to compete against. There’s not a whole lot he’s afraid of, and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger. He lets it fly.”
There’s a new look to the Sultan Turks this season, but coach Garth MacDicken’s expectations of greatness are still the same.
Sultan has placed in the top 10 in the Class 1A team standings at state for three consecutive seasons, but a big hurdle in its quest for sustained excellence is coming this season.
Eight seniors graduated from last year’s team, a group that formed the backbone of the Turks’ squad that handed off a three-year dual-meet winning streak to this year’s team.
“We definitely had a lot of kids graduate, but we have some great kids coming back and a few freshmen coming in that have done a lot over the summer and come from great wrestling backgrounds,” MacDicken said. “We still have enough good kids in the room to be great.”
Junior Luke Weaver (sixth at 113) and senior Kaleb Dennis (fifth at 160) are the Turks’ returning state placers, and MacDicken said senior Tre Sargent and sophomore Aidan Fleming are ready to make a jump.
Sargent was a state participant as a sophomore in 2016, but his junior campaign was derailed by injuries. Fleming qualified for state as a freshman last season.
Changes coming to Mat Classic?
Coaches’ complaints grew louder about the regional format that many view as no longer applicable when conferences are built primarily around geography and travel concerns rather than classification.
As an alternative to regional tournaments the Saturday before Mat Classic, coaches would like the WIAA to begin the state tournament a day early, on Thursday instead of Friday, and, in effect, make the regionals part of the state tournament.
“Why not (take) those four eight-man brackets (in each classification) and move them to the Thursday before the state tournament?,”said Edmonds-Woodway coach Brian Alfi, who is a member of the state coaches’ board and has worked with the WIAA on reform.
“Doing that would become a cost thing, and ADs might not want to send all those kids to state and pay for more hotel rooms, but some schools are already paying for hotel rooms to travel to regionals. Coaches really want 32-man brackets at the state tournament, and we think when ADs look at the math, they’ll want it too.”