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

Decatur senior Christian Aragon will be one of six seniors and 11 overall Gators wrestling at this weekend’s Mat Classic state championships inside the Tacoma Dome. The Gators are a favorite to win the Class 3A team title.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Decatur senior Christian Aragon will be one of six seniors and 11 overall Gators wrestling at this weekend’s Mat Classic state championships inside the Tacoma Dome. The Gators are a favorite to win the Class 3A team title.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

There are nine gold banners strewn across the gymnasium at Decatur High School, each one representing a state team championship.

The Decatur wrestling team is hoping to add to that prestigious collection this weekend. The Gators enter today’s Mat Classic inside the Tacoma Dome as the favorite to bring home the program’s first-ever state title.

If Decatur were to hang another one of those gold banners, a group of six hard-working seniors will lead the way for the Gators. Trysten Dawson (120 pounds), Keoni Aparis (138), Dennis Good (145), Christian Aragon (152), Brandon Zimmerman (160) and Max Henry (195) have spent countless hours on and off the Decatur wrestling mats, with the ultimate goal of winning a state title in the back of their minds.

“These seniors were just average kids early on and just came through the program and are now successful,” said longtime head coach Mike Bressler. “They have worked very hard.”

“We knew coming into the season that it would be hard-working,” Aparis said. “Decatur wresting has expectations for all of us.”

According to the website, Decatur is predicted to tally 118 points during the Mat Classic, followed closely by Bonney Lake (112), Mount Spokane (112) and North Central (111). The site’s rankings are based upon a hypothetical state tournament, with the final placings derived from the current individual rankings.

Needless to say, those arbitrary rankings before the state tournament mean absolutely nothing, according to Bressler and his wrestlers.

“We don’t care about ranking at all,” said Aparis. “We have used them toward getting better.”

But that doesn’t mean that winning a state team championship hasn’t entered the minds of the six seniors, along with five more underclassmen who will wrestle at the Mat Classic, as well as the Decatur coaching staff.

“It’s doable, but there are no guarantees,” said Bressler, who won a pair of individual state titles during his prep days at Evergreen. “It would be nice for them. But these kids have to be perfect to win it. We can’t be satisfied with just getting there. The bottom line is they are going to have to beat people they aren’t supposed to beat.”

Helping the Gators’ cause is the hunger the program feels after finishing in second place inside the Tacoma Dome a season ago. Decatur finished just four points shy of snagging the program’s first state team championship. Sunnyside won the 3A crown with 142.5 points, compared to the Gators’ 138.5.

“That didn’t sit real well with these kids,” Bressler said of the second-place finish. “It gave us a goal to shoot for and they have been working all year for it. This is why we wrestled such a tough schedule. They have been beating the toughest kids all year.”

“We didn’t take that real easy,” Zimmerman said of the runner-up position in 2013. “That kind of started our work ethic. We all came into the wrestling season in good shape.”

“We used it toward getting better,” Aragon said. “We don’t care about rankings at all.”

The Gators’ school-record 11 state tournament qualifiers has been led by the foursome of seniors Dawson and Zimmerman, along with junior Isaiah Diggs and sophomore Leviticus Arizpe. All four snagged regional championships last weekend and all boast 32 or more wins on the season.

The 126-pound Arizpe (35-1) avenged his only loss of the season with an 8-1 win over Lakes’ Andrew Ramirez at regionals. Ramirez upset Arizpe in the final of the SPSL 3A Tournament.

Diggs, who was the SPSL 3A’s All-Purpose Player of the Year in football, is 34-3 on the season and pinned Aparis in the 138-pound regional championship.

Dawson (32-4) dominated the 120-pound bracket last weekend, pinning Timberline’s Gage George in the first round. Zimmerman moved to 33-4 at 160 pounds, with a 41-second pin of Lincoln’s Murad Vagabov for the regional title.

“We have a much greater desire this year,” Zimmerman said. “Our goal is to take state. It would be awesome to win the title at Decatur.”

Also helping the Gators is that six of the 11 wrestlers have qualified for the Mat Classic before, which is a huge advantage.

The Mat Classic, which is best described as a wrestling extravaganza, draws nearly 900 wrestlers from every nook and cranny of the state, more than 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 pressure of competing under the bright lights of the Mat Classic can sometimes affect first-time wrestlers.

“It’s just another match,” said Good, who is 29-6 this season. “That’s how you have to look at it. You can’t let all the hype get to you.”

“To win state is the ultimate goal,” Dawson said. “But there is a lot that can happen. We are just going to take it one match at a time.”

But the 11 Decatur wrestlers won’t be the only Federal Way school district representatives at the Mat Classic. On the Class 4A side, the Todd Beamer Titans will be sending a solid seven wrestlers to Tacoma, led by regional champions Jordan Rhodes (120) and Haftom Tafere (132).

Other Beamer qualifiers are Brett Dykman (113), Brian Dykman (126), Sean Van Earwage (138), Adrian Avena (145) and K.J. Skannal (195). Brett Dykman and Van Eagwage both lost in regional championship matches last Saturday.

Federal Way and Jefferson will both be represented by one wrestler. The Eagles’ Andrezj Hughes-Murray lost in the regional final at 220 pounds and TJ’s Heng Yon finished fourth at 170.

On the girls’ side of the tournament, the district contingent will again be led by Beamer’s Arian Carpio.

The junior will be shooting for her third-straight state-championship match appearance. Carpio finished second as a freshman and won the 118-pound title last season. The loss as a ninth-grader is the only loss of her high school career. She will be wrestling at 124 pounds this weekend.

Jefferson’s Jasmine Pleasant is also coming off a regional championship last weekend. The freshman won the 112-pound bracket with a 5-1 decision over Puyallup’s Brooklyn Bartleson.

The Federal Way girls qualified four for the Mat Classic, including Ana Sanchez (106), Evelyn Lafferty (118), Tally Thomas (155) and Fernanda Carmona (170).



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.

2013 state team champions: 4A – Lake Stevens. 3A – University. Girls – Warden.

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

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