Ray Mather has known the current group of seniors he has was going to be special for quite some time.
Special enough that four years ago the longtime Stanwood High School boys wrestling coach determined the class’s final season would also be his last leading the program.
The group has lived up to the billing thus far.
Over the past four seasons, the Spartans’ class of 2023 has helped the program soar.
Stanwood placed fourth in Class 3A at Mat Classic during the group’s freshman season in 2020. Last season the Spartans won a Wesco 3A North championship, claimed their first-ever sub-regional title and placed seventh at state.
And this season Stanwood has been on a tear while winning another Wesco 3A North championship and eight different tournament team titles throughout the season, including a dominant showing while winning a regional championship last week.
“They’ve made a lot of things come to fruition for me that I’ve been searching for through all of my coaching years,” Mather said.
This weekend Mather and Spartans make their final stop together as the state’s top high school wrestlers descend upon the Tacoma Dome on Friday and Saturday for Mat Classic XXXIV.
Stanwood qualified 11 wrestlers for the 3A tournament. Nine are ranked in the top 10 of their respective weight classes by Washington Wrestling Report, including four in the top four, and eight of the qualifiers come from the senior group.
The talent-stocked Spartans have one goal in mind this weekend — chasing down the school’s first team state title in any sport.
“We’re definitely shooting for a team state title,” senior Keaton Mayernik said. “It’s never been done in the past … and we’re here to make that change with the mindset of working real hard.”
Stanwood enters the tournament as the fifth-ranked team and an underdog when it comes to the favorites in a loaded 3A tournament that hasn’t been won by a school from the west side of the state since Bonney Lake in 2017.
Title-favorite Hermiston, defending-champion Mead and contenders Mt. Spokane and University make up a formidable quartet of challengers for the Spartans to surpass.
Hermiston qualified 12 wrestlers for Mat Classic, including five with top-three rankings. Mead is sending a whopping 15 wrestlers to state, with four ranked in the top three. Mt. Spokane, which won three straight team titles from 2018 to 2020, qualified eight wrestlers, including three in the top three. And University qualified 10 wrestlers, including three in the top three.
It’s a tall task, but Stanwood isn’t backing down.
“I think our 11 (guys) are a very quality group,” senior Tyler Rhue said. “I think they’re underrating us. I think we can get that state title.”
Rhue, ranked second at 132 pounds, is one of the four Spartans entering the tournament with a top-four ranking. He’s also in the bracket that could provide Stanwood with a bittersweet moment in the end.
Teammate Mayernik is ranked fourth at 132 pounds. The pair are close friends and have been wrestling partners for 12 years dating back to their starts with the Stanwood Scorpions youth program. Mayernik said they’ve even been mistaken as brothers over the years while at camps and tournaments.
The duo of three-time state qualifiers each placed fifth or better at state twice already but were in different weight classes each time. They squared off in the finals the past two weekends at sub-regionals and regionals, with Rhue winning both bouts via decision by a combined five points.
The pair head into the weekend with a combined 78-4 record and are on opposite sides of the bracket. The hope is for an all-Stanwood final in their weight class.
“It would be a really, really special experience, especially because of how long we’ve been wrestling together and how close we’ve become over it,” Mayernik said. “It kind of just encapsulates that whole thing.”
The downside is that it means only one can bring home a title.
“You’ve gotta watch one of them not do it,” Mather said. “It’ll be a tough experience at the time.”
Seniors Mason Ferguson and Bryan Roodzant make up the other half of Stanwood’s four top-four ranked wrestlers.
Ferguson, ranked third at 182 pounds, won a regional title last week. He’s a member of a challenging bracket that features four state-placers from last season, including defending champion Jaxson Gribskov of Hermiston.
“Everyone’s really good in the bracket,” two-time state qualifier Ferguson said. “It’s not going to be easy, but it makes it more fun.”
Roodzant, ranked fourth at 120 pounds, also enters Mat Classic fresh off of a regional title. He placed eighth at state in the same weight class last season. He’s among the many Spartans hoping to build on their prior experience at the state’s premier high school showdown.
“I think it’s huge going in and being able to understand the environment there,” two-time state qualifier Roodzant said. “You gotta get your head right and go in with the mindset that you’re going to win.”
Freshman Soren Anderson (eighth at 106 pounds), sophomore Aven Anderson (10th, 113), senior Ryder Bumgarner (seventh at 170), sophomore Elijah Fleck (sixth, 195) and senior Owen Anthes (10th, 195) make up the remainder of the team’s top-10 ranked wrestlers. Seniors Lane Ovenell (13th, 138) and Carter Kinney (11th, 182) add to Stanwood’s mix of 11 overall qualifiers. The Spartans could also end up with a 12th competitor at state, as senior Marc Hruschka is serving as the Region 1 alternate at 106 pounds.
“They’re a tight group,” Mather said. “They’re good in the classroom. They’re talented. They play multiple sports. … They do things in our community leadership-wise. They’re just a well-rounded group of kids.”
Many of Stanwood’s state-bound wrestlers came up through the Scorpions youth program and have trained together for years. The countless sessions on the mats have created a family-like atmosphere for the group.
“We love each other and support each other even when times get hard,” Ferguson said.
While a team title can’t be won on Day 1 of the tournament, Friday’s results will go a long way in the Spartans’ quest for a title.
The path to the semifinals for Stanwood’s 11 wrestlers includes potential matchups with six athletes who reached finals last season. The Spartans should also have plenty of meaningful early-round bouts against competitors from the teams they’re chasing for a title, with the potential of up to 10 matches against wrestlers from Hermiston, Mead, Mt. Spokane and University on the road to the semis.
“We’ve gotta be on point right out of the gates if we’re going to make any sort of push at it,” Mather said.
The Spartans don’t need any extra motivation for achieving their goal this weekend, but the opportunity to send their coach off on a high note is one they’re all looking forward to.
“It would mean everything,” Roodzant beamed.
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