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MAT CLASSIC PREVIEW: Decatur seniors hope to lead Gators to first-ever team title

Decatur 182-pounder Spencer Smith is one of four seniors who hope to lead the Gators to their first-ever state wrestling team championship this weekend at Mat Classic XXV.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Decatur 182-pounder Spencer Smith is one of four seniors who hope to lead the Gators to their first-ever state wrestling team championship this weekend at Mat Classic XXV.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

The four seniors who will represent Decatur High School at the Mat Classic state wrestling tournament this weekend inside the Tacoma Dome have been through a lot together.

Nick Karis, Spencer Smith, Rowland Gaydosh and Kyle Gleed have all shed blood, sweat and tears inside the Gator wrestling room during their four-year careers under the tutelage of head coach Mike Bressler.

This weekend will be the last ride for the Decatur foursome. The Mat Classic will celebrate its silver anniversary this weekend inside the Tacoma Dome Friday and Saturday.

The Mat Classic, which is best described as a wrestling extravaganza, draws nearly 900 wrestlers from every nook and cranny of the state, over 25,000 fans and media from more than 125 newspapers, television and radio stations. The grapplers, both boys and girls, compete on 24 wrestling mats strewn across the humongous Tacoma Dome floor.

“The first time I went, I was insanely nervous,” said Gaydosh, who finished second at 170 pounds a year ago and is wrestling at 195 this season. “This year, we just want to finish it off.”

All four matriculated through Lakota Middle School before stepping into the halls at Decatur. Karis, Gaydosh and Gleed were even in the same kindergarten class at Adelaide Elementary.

“I’m the outcast who went to Twin Lakes,” joked Smith, the Gators’ 182-pounder, who is 30-7 on the season.

And just like always, the foursome will all have the same goal when they step on the wrestling mat for the last time together this weekend — winning a state championship.

The four seniors lead the biggest group of Gator wrestlers to ever qualify for the Mat Classic. In total, Bressler will be shuttling 10 wrestlers to Tacoma, who could bring the program its first-ever state team championship.

On paper, the Gators will be competing with Enumclaw and University high schools for state supremacy in the Class 3A division. Enumclaw has won three of the last four 3A titles and narrowly beat Decatur for the SPSL 3A and Regional championships. University, of Spokane, is also loaded, but their nine qualifiers just happen to match up in the same division as Decatur’s state participants.

“It just all depends if our kids come to wrestle,” Bressler said. “But this group of kids really wants to win and that’s good.”

“It would be amazing to win state,” Gaydosh said. “Our (class) has left a pretty big footprint and we want to be the first team to get a state championship. It would be huge.”

The Gator foursome will also be wrestling with a heavy heart this weekend. Karis, Smith, Gaydosh and Gleed will be without a fifth senior inside the Tacoma Dome.

Robert “Hurricane” Harris was a stud wrestler for the Gators before drowning in Lake Tapps in September 2011. Since Harris’ death, the Decatur wrestling team has held the Hurricane Harris Invitational during the season, which the Gators have won both years.

“I always talked to him and we would tell each other that we were going to be state champs,” Smith said. “That’s been a huge motivation for me. We just don’t have him here to help us do it.”

Harris got the nickname, Hurricane, because he came out for every wrestling match like a ball of fire.

“He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my life,” Smith said.

“There are times where we don’t want to go our hardest or we are coasting,”  said Gleed, who is the top-ranked 3A heavyweight entering the tournament with a 34-4 record. “He pushes me to go harder.”

It looks like Karis, who is also top-ranked at 170 with a 34-1 record, will be the only one of the four who is going to continue his wrestling career in college. So this weekend will, most likely, mark the end of the road, as far as wrestling, for the other three.

“There is a lot of pressure on us,” said 195-pounder Gaydosh, who is 34-4 this season and looking to join the Coast Guard. “Wrestling is something I have really loved for a long time. I’ve ruined my ears (pointing to his partially-cauliflowered ears). I’ve bled and cried for this sport. So I’m going to give it my all this weekend.”

But the Decatur seniors are not the only wrestlers from the Federal Way school district who will be in Tacoma. In total, 25 wrestlers from Decatur, Beamer and Federal Way high schools qualified for the Mat Classic. The tournament kicks off at 10 a.m. Friday and continues through Saturday night, when champions will be crowned.

And it’s very possible several wrestlers could bring state titles. Five district wrestlers, including Karis and Gleed, enter Mat Classic top-ranked in their respective weight classes, according to WashingtonWrestlingReport.com.

The Beamer girls feature two in Arian Carpio and Vanessa Dixon, and the Federal Way girls are led by top-ranked 118-pounder Bianca Arizpe, who is 24-2 on the season.

Both Carpio (112 pounds) and Dixon (145) also bring unbeaten records to Tacoma and both have prior Mat Classic experience, despite both being sophomores. Carpio lost in the state championship match a season ago to Winlock’s Rachel Archer. It’s still Carpio’s only defeat during her career at Beamer. Dixon finished third a season ago as a freshman and brings a perfect 26-0 record. Carpio and Dixon will be joined by teammate Lulu Kemman, who is 19-9 on the year at 137 pounds.

The Decatur boys crowned a regional-best four individual champions last weekend at Bonney Lake High School, compared to one by Enumclaw.

Karis and Gleed were joined on top of the podium by teammates Leviticus Arizpe at 113 pounds and sophomore Isaiah Diggs at 138. Tysten Dawson (113), Christian Aragon (145), Smith (182) and Gaydosh (195) all finished in second place. Both Gaydosh and Smith enter state ranked third in their respective weight classes, as does Diggs.

Arizpe will be joined by Federal Way teammates Luaipou Lologo (155 pounds), Jacklyn Baules (170) and Jessica Cabanada (190) in Tacoma. The group won last weekend’s regional team championship.

Lologo enters the Mat Classic as the second-ranked 155-pounder behind Lakes’ Kiaya Vanscoyoc, who pinned Lologo (22-3) in the regional championship match late in the third round.

The Beamer boys will carry a busload of wrestlers to the Tacoma Dome Friday morning. The Titans qualified seven after finishing a surprising third at the Class 4A Region II Tournament.

Leading the list is regional champion Jordan Rhodes at 113 pounds, who is 24-12 during the season. Other Titan qualifiers are Malik Messiah (106), Brett Dykman (113), Haftem Tafere (126), Sean VanEarwage (138), Mitchell Owens (160) and K.J. Skannal (220). Dykman is 33-8 on the year and Owens, a freshman, is 30-10.

MAT CLASSIC XXV

Where: Tacoma Dome

Schedule: Friday – First session is from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Second session (including quarterfinals) is from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday – Third session (including semifinals, and all state-placing matches) is from 10 a.m. until 2:15 p.m. The championship round kicks off at 5:15 p.m.

2012 state team champions: 4A – Tahoma. 3A – Enumclaw. Girls – Sedro-Woolley.

Tickets: Daily passes are $15 for adults, and $11 for students and senior citizens. Weekend passes are $23 (adults) and $17 (students/senior citizens).

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