GRANITE FALLS — For a team mostly short on experience at the high-school level, the Granite Falls wrestling team is a cool and confident bunch as its postseason journey begins with Saturday’s 1A sub-regional tournament at Mount Baker High School.
Coach Tony Helgeson led the Tigers — who will compete as a 1A program this year after the disbanding of the 2A/1A Cascade Conference and the school’s drop in classification — through a daunting schedule to prepare the young but talented squad for the rigors of postseason wrestling.
Along with participating in the Marysville Pilchuck Premier tournament (Jan. 12) and the Paul Reiman Invitational at Mount Vernon High School (Dec. 15), the Tigers trekked to Spokane on Jan. 18 for the Washington Dream Duals, placing seventh out of eight 1A teams in the 1A division.
The eight-team field included four of the state’s top nine 1A squads (No. 2 Forks, No. 5 Deer Park, No. 6 Lakeside, No. 9 Royal) according to Washington Wrestling Report’s poll.
Granite Falls’ tone-setters and most talented wrestlers are sophomore 145-pounder Hayden Long and freshman 106-pounder Riley Hoople, who despite their youth have been wrestling competitively for most of their lives and embody the assured demeanor of the Tigers’ roster as a whole.
“I’m looking at (this weekend) about the same as all our other tournaments,” said Long, who will bring a record of 39-0 into the postseason. “I wrestle a lot year-round, and this isn’t something I’m going to get all worried and stressed out about. I’m just going to and have fun and wrestle, and hopefully do good. Whatever happens, happens.”
Last summer, Long honed his craft while going undefeated in Greco-Roman matches for Team Washington in the Cadet National Duals in Spokane, and he and Hoople traveled to Hungary as part of a traveling group that worked out in one of the country’s Olympic training centers.
Granite Falls’ postseason hopefuls aren’t limited to Long and Hoople.
Junior 145-pounder Mason McBride (24-5) and sophomore 120-pounder Christian Roberts (23-18) are also threats to advance out of Saturday’s sub-regional tournament, and have been ranked in Washington Wrestling Report’s poll throughout the season.
McBride, a long and lanky athlete, was a state alternate last year, and Roberts is a converted basketball player who has returned to wrestling after a year away from the sport.
“I feel like I’m a lot stronger and faster than I was last year, and I’ve been in the weight room a lot, working on getting bigger,” said McBride, who also plays wide receiver on Granite Falls’ football team.
The Tigers are drawing confidence from the fact that they’ve already seen many of their potential sub-regional opponents while attending the Paul Reiman Classic and the Mount Baker Invitational on back-to-back weekends in December.
“It’s more comforting when you’ve seen kids that you have to beat,” McBride said. “You know how they’re going to wrestle and what they like to do.”
While the Tigers would love to advance more than one wrestler to Mat Classic XXXI, Granite Falls is a program that is still building.
Sophomore 138-pounder Kolby Petraborg, senior 170-pounder Seth Harris and sophomore 285-pounder Jarad Barth could keep their seasons going if they wrestle well this weekend. Harris is one of only two seniors on the Granite Falls roster, so the tight-knit Tigers will get to grow and improve together.
“The cohesion of our guys has been very good,” Helgeson said. “I’ve heard a few of them say they want to jump in and do freestyle stuff in the offseason with Hayden and Riley, and that they want to be as good as they are. We’ve tried to get our guys exposed to as much as we can, and wanting to be successful has continued to be contagious for them.”