Participants wait to sign up for matches prior to last week’s girls wrestling scramble at Snohomish High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Participants wait to sign up for matches prior to last week’s girls wrestling scramble at Snohomish High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Scenes from a high school girls wrestling scramble

The rapid yet uneven growth of girls wrestling has forced coaches to get creative to compete.

SNOHOMISH — From beginning to end, the girls wrestling event hosted by Snohomish High School last Wednesday night was emblematic of the sport’s uneven growth, both locally and statewide.

The original format of the event called for three dual meets (Edmonds-Woodway plus single wrestlers from Mountlake Terrace and Meadowdale vs. a combined Snohomish/Glacier Peak team, Edmonds-plus vs. Arlington, and Arlington vs. Snohomish/Glacier Peak) and a concurrent scramble (a continuous run of exhibition matches aimed at getting mat time for wrestlers not in the varsity dual lineups).

However, the schedule was altered twice on the fly.

Forty minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. start of the event, Arlington coach Jim Smoots, Edmonds-Woodway coach Terry Ray, Snohomish coach Dan Mundell and Glacier Peak coach Jordan Gere huddled and decided that the five wrestlers from Shorewood, which originally planned to compete in the scramble portion of the event, would join with the Edmonds School District team to plug the gaps where there otherwise would have been forfeits. Thus, more wrestlers got competitive matches.

After the first two duals and the scramble concluded around 8 p.m., the coaches huddled again and decided to eliminate the scheduled dual between Arlington and Snohomish/Glacier Peak. It was starting to circulate through the crowd of about 100 spectators that it was beginning to snow in Arlington, and the Eagles already had beaten the Panthers/Grizzlies 66-18 in a home dual on Dec. 18.

Being flexible with the conventions of competition is still the norm for much of the area’s girls wrestling programs outside of Arlington and Everett, each of which can field full dual lineups at all 14 weight classes from within their own schools.

“This season, everything’s been on the fly,” Ray said before Wednesday’s event.

Nevertheless, the goal of the evening was achieved. Each of the 54 wrestlers in the gym wrestled at least two matches.

The wrestlers cheered for their teammates (even the temporary ones) and their opponents with equal sincerity, and chatted while waiting to take the mat against one another.

“It’s so great. It’s all just one big family, and the girls love it,” Mundell said.

A few scenes from Wednesday’s scramble:

A wrestler, a coach and a cheerleader

Snohomish junior 170-pounder Alycia Pidgeon may have had more wrestling matches under her belt than anyone else in the Panthers’ gym Wednesday night.

Jeremy Pidgeon, Alycia’s father and the Panthers’ girls wrestling coach until this season, owns Team Mean MMA, a Snohomish martial arts academy, and started Alycia in submission wrestling when she was 5 years old, she said. Alycia began folkstyle wrestling in seventh grade, is a returning state placer (fifth at 170 pounds) and a two-time participant in the freestyle Cadet/Junior National Championships.

In Snohomish’s dual, Pidgeon registered a first-period pin over Edmonds-Woodway’s Destinee Harris. It was the second time Pidgeon has decked Harris this season, but she had to work for it Wednesday. Harris displayed exceptional strength in bridging out of a pinning predicament three times before succumbing.

Pidgeon won the “Jump On In” tournament at Yelm High School on Dec. 7, and most of her toughest competition this season will come when the Panthers travel to similar weekend tournaments, such as the Lady Huskie Invite in Othello on Jan. 18.

Her main focus Wednesday, as it is during much of the team’s practice time, was to be an auxiliary coach and cheerleader for her less-experienced teammates, alongside fellow Snohomish returning state placers Mikayla Jardine (eighth at 105) and Holly Butler (fifth, 135). It’s a role Pidgeon attacks with fervor.

“I have seen so many girls fall in love with this sport,” she said before Wednesday’s event. “If I can show a newer girl a move in a way that’s easier for her understand from what the coaches are saying, that’s great. It’s really cool to help get the new girls to build up their confidence.”

GP’s Lastala perseveres

Glacier Peak freshman 115-pounder Parker Lastala scored a third-period pin over Hope Ambachew, the only Mountlake Terrace wrestler competing Wednesday, in one of the evening’s most exciting bouts.

Ambachew caught Lastala in a head-and-arm throw right off the opening whistle, but Lastala weathered the storm. The two wrestlers battled back and forth in an intense second period, where each had multiple opportunities to pin the other that weren’t converted.

Lastala persevered, and decked Ambachew with 25 seconds remaining in the match.

“In that moment, you’re just thinking about getting up and out,” Lastala said of her early brush with defeat. “You just have to clear your mind for that millisecond and focus. I wasn’t expecting it (Ambachew’s early attack), but you have to roll with the punches.”

Lastala is in her second year of wrestling under Gere’s tutelage after competing at Valley View Middle School last season as an eighth-grader. Her father, Greg, a former wrestler, convinced her she’d take to the sport.

“I’ve done cross country, softball and soccer, and I haven’t had a stronger bond with my teammates than I have with wrestling,” she said. “I like that about it.”

Gere called Lastala’s performance against Ambachew “a true example of grit” and said the freshman has a high ceiling.

“I think that’s a pretty low bar for her,” he said, when asked if Lastala could develop into a state placer. “She’s a natural athlete and she’s already a student of the sport. It’s fun to watch other matches with her and see her start to analyze what people are doing.”

Wrestling for her school’s rival

Like Ambachew of Mountlake Terrace, Meadowdale junior 135-pounder Farrah Padilla was the only wrestler representing her school Wednesday. Padilla said there are two other girls in the Mavericks’ program, but she’s the only one of the three who has wrestled in competition this season.

Padilla has wrestled as part of Edmonds-Woodway’s team at duals and weekend tournaments all season, even though she practices with Meadowdale’s boys team.

She said the Warriors have welcomed her onto their team.

“At first I was extremely nervous, because that’s our school’s rival, but they’ve taken me in with open arms and we’ve formed friendships, beyond just being teammates,” said Padilla, who went 1-1 Wednesday, pinning Snohomish’s Jay Ledezma and falling via pin to returning Arlington state-placer Tailer Cochran (eighth, 120).

Padilla wrestled for the Rhinos, an Edmonds-based club, from fourth through sixth grade, and for ex-Mavericks coach Brian Boardman at Meadowdale Middle School, but admitted she was too timid to compete in high school until this year.

What changed her mind? “You only live once,” she said.

Padilla, who played varsity volleyball for Meadowdale, echoed the sentiments of many Wednesday when she cited wrestling’s no-cut policy as something that appeals to new athletes.

Padilla said embracing the physicality and aggression inherent in wrestling wasn’t a big hurdle for her, but agreed it’s one of the biggest obstacles new wrestlers.

“It’s not like most sports,” she said. “You’re literally throwing yourself on people. Some people don’t even like touching and mingling with other people.”

Meadowdale doesn’t have a dedicated girls coach, and neither Mavericks boys head coach Josh Knowles nor assistant Daniel Takeuchi were in attendance Wednesday, but Padilla said she doesn’t feel overlooked in the Meadowdale program as the only competitive female.

“We’ll talk about how I did, and I’ll get a pin for every pin that I have in my matches, just like the boys,” she said. “I think it gives me an advantage, to be coached by Knowles in practice and then the Edmonds coaches at matches.”

‘Exciting to see how fast it’s growing’

All of the wrestlers competing at Snohomish on Wednesday night owe a debt of gratitude to Smoots, and not just the wrestlers on his 7-0 Arlington team.

Along with Everett girls coach and Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall-of-Famer Rick Iversen, with whom he won a boys 3A team championship at Arlington in 2016, Smoots helped create the side-by-side dual and scramble format that was used Wednesday and is one of the forerunners of the explosion of girls wrestling in Snohomish County, even though he served as Arlington’s boys coach from 1989-2009. He has led the Eagles’ girls program since 2017.

“Rick and I talked a lot about it, and we decided that a regular dual-meet schedule doesn’t fit because so many of the schools are just starting out. We have done just scrambles and invited many of the smaller (teams), but there’s no team scores kept, and we really wanted to have that dual-meet feel, with the team scores and the excitement of wrestling for your team and your school,” Smoots said. “This way, the teams with bigger numbers can have dual meets, and we’re also running a scramble mat where the junior-varsity girls and anyone else that gets a forfeit can get out and get a match.”

The growth of the Arlington program into a formidable dual-meet force was, according to Smoots, sparked by a 2017 dual meet at which Arlington hosted Lynden on a Friday night that he aggressively promoted.

“It was under the spotlight, and we had music and introductions,” he said. “It was a packed house.”

The buzz generated by that night gained momentum, and Arlington has become, in many ways, the perfect example of where coaches and administrators hope girls wrestling is headed.

“We have girls wrestling at both of our middle schools (Post and Waller) and I’ve proposed that we start separating the girls out, combining the two middle schools, having a girls coach and start going against girls only,” Smoots said. “When parents find out that you’ll be competing against girls only, they’re much more likely to let their daughters wrestle.”

Arlington’s administration also funded a third paid assistant coach position for girls wrestling this season for the first time, equaling what the Eagles’ boys program is afforded. That’s appropriate, given that each team has 30 wrestlers on its roster. All three of Smoots’ assistants — Ali Hendricks, Jordynn Mani and Robin Hernandez — wrestled for him in the girls program at Arlington.

In the next three years, Smoots envisions more schools being able to field their own dual-meet teams without combining with other programs. He said he believes hiring dedicated girls coaches would add to the sport’s legitimacy in the eyes of prospective wrestlers. He also said more parents and young female wrestlers will start to look at the sport as a path to possible college scholarships as participants in one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports. According to a 2018-19 participation study conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), about 21,000 girls were participating in wrestling nationwide.

“Some of the schools up north have been doing this for 8-10 years, but in Wesco it’s brand new,” Smoots said. “It’s exciting to see how fast it’s growing. I couldn’t have imagined it five years ago.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Austin Johnson, 26 years-old, trains on the Centennial Trail in Lake Stevens and is planning to do a 24-hour run to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
24 hours, 80 miles, $23k raised for mental health

Austin Johnson completes a 24-hour run along the Centennial Trail to raise money for suicide prevention.

Everett Silvertips' Jake Christiansen takes a shot on goal during the game on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Silvertips release abbreviated 24-game schedule

Everett will open its season against Spokane at Angel of the Winds Arena on March 20.

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert passes the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against San Diego in Spokane, Wash., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Gonzaga’s Kispert finalist for Erving Award

The Edmonds native is among the final five to be the top small forward in college basketball.

A law enforcement officer looks over a damaged vehicle following a rollover accident involving golfer Tiger Woods, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in the Rancho Palos Verdes suburb of Los Angeles. Woods suffered leg injuries in the one-car accident and was undergoing surgery, authorities and his manager said. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
L.A. sheriff calls Tiger Woods crash ‘purely an accident’

Deputies saw no evidence the golf star was impaired by drugs or alcohol after Tuesday’s rollover.

Quarterback Tanner Jellison runs a play with running backs Jay Roughton, left, and Trayce Hanks as the Lake Stevens High School football team conducts its first practice, marking the first day of practice for fall sports in the Wesco division, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Lake Stevens, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Wesco high school sports teams’ long layoff finally ends

For the first time in more than 450 days, Wesco fall athletes gathered for official practices.

Arizona Diamondbacks' Travis Snider singles against the Texas Rangers during a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Community sports roundup: Ex-Jackson star Snider joins Braves

Plus, a former Monroe QB is excelling at Whitworth, the Silvertips sign a former T-bird, and more.

High School football teams across Snohomish County are closing in on their first game in over a year. (Herald file photos)
Prep football: Key games and the area’s complete schedule

The first H.S. football game in the county in over a year is set to take place this coming Friday.

Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto talks about the suspension of second baseman Robinson Cano, before the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Seattle. Cano was suspended 80 games for violating baseball's joint drug agreement. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Mariners doing damage control with players after Mather’s video

GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais say the players involved have every right to be upset.

FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2018, file photo, Seattle Mariners president Kevin Mather stands on the field before the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Seattle. Mather apologized late Sunday night, Feb. 21, 2021, for comments made during a recent online event where he expressed opinions about organizational strategy, personnel moves and club finances. Mather’s comments came in a speech to the Bellevue, Wash., Breakfast Rotary Club on Feb. 5 and were posted online over the weekend. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Mariners CEO Mather resigns after derogatory remarks surface

He made insensitive comments about players from Japan and the Dominican Republic for their English skills.

Most Read