If the competition of more than 1,000 wrestlers under the gaze of 10,000 fans seems intimidating, double it. Then you’ll have a better idea of the environment at the WIAA Mat Classic XXXI state wrestling tournament last weekend.
More than 2,400 wrestlers competed for glory at the Tacoma Dome Feb. 15-16. Some athletes walked away with titles and many walked away with tears as the widened pool of wrestlers upped the stakes for triumph and heartbreak.
This year’s structure was different than ever before, welcoming a 32-person bracket – a result of the regional tournaments canceled in early February due to severe snowfall and inclement weather.
Within three rounds under the Dome, Federal Way sophomore London Houston became a state champion.
Houston won the 125-pound state champion title by 12-4 major decision against White River’s Claire Dicugno.
“I just can’t believe it,” Houston said after her championship match. “I’m 15 and I just won state.”
Houston went 5-0 at the state tournament with four pins.
“It just means that all my hard work that I’ve been putting in, all the times I cried because I didn’t want to practice … it all adds up,” she said. “You don’t realize how grateful you are for it until something like this happens. I’m so blessed, I’m just so blessed.”
Now adding this state title to her resume of two-time USA All American among others, Houston said all the work put in during the weekends was worth it.
“I’ve been putting in a lot of work, every week, every day,” she said. “Even on Saturdays and Sundays, I’m just really happy it paid off.”
As a team, Federal Way High School girls finished fourth in state with a score of 94.5. Union snagged the girls state championship title followed by White River in second and Hanford in third.
Federal Way senior Anjilia Sumandig placed third in state at 120 pounds.
After a loss in semifinals to North Kitsap’s Holly Beaudoin, Sumandig battled for third beating Columbia’s Hailey Johnson by 10-2 major decision.
“I just wanted this year to be my best year,” said Sumandig, who took fourth in state last year. “I just had to trust my training and trust everything I’ve done this season would pay off in that last match.”
Saturday’s match marked the final time Sumandig would hit the mats for high school.
“I’m enjoying it more, I’m soaking it all in. I think the last three years I took it for granted being here,” Sumandig said. “And now, especially since I can say I took third when it was a bigger bracket this year … I feel more thankful to be here.”
For freshman Kayla McKinley-Johnson’s first time at state, she walked away with a fourth-place medal at 105 pounds.
McKinley-Johnson lost by 8-3 decision to Moses Lake’s Melanie Flores in the third-place match on Saturday.
“If I had the competition I had at this tournament, throughout the season, I would be a completely different wrestler,” McKinley-Johnson said.
While she’s been at similar sized tournaments before, McKinley-Johnson said the gap between sub-regionals and state took a toll on her preparedness.
“Regionals would’ve set the tone of this tournament, and I feel like I would’ve been more ready,” she said. “Half the girls we’ve here we’ve never seen them before.”
Although McKinley-Johnson said her finish was bittersweet, she also became the highest placing freshman at a state tournament in Federal Way’s history.
“I’m incredibly proud of these girls,” said Federal Way girls wrestling head coach Travis Mango, adding he’s been teary-eyed throughout the whole day of state finals. “It wasn’t quite the results we wanted all the way through, but the girls fought the entire time, they put themselves in the positions to be successful, and being as young as we are I think we learned a lot of lessons that are going to carry us forward in the next year.”
Whether his wrestlers win or lose, Mango tells them the same thing: “That I love them.”
“The match doesn’t define them,” he said. “If we allow this sport to completely define who we are as people, we’d be lost. While wrestling, in my opinion, mimics life more so than any other sport, it’s one moment in time.”
Don’t forget the feeling
Decatur boys wrestler Sampson Mitchell also had his first taste of state, securing sixth in state at 220.
“Didn’t expect it to be this big,” Mitchell said, gazing up at the crowd of 20,000 spectators inside the Dome.
South Kitsap’s Ethan Fragoso won by fall over Mitchell with 40 seconds left on the third round.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match, I did the best I could but it didn’t come out the way I wanted to,” Mitchell said. “I put up a good fight.”
Decatur brought eight boys to state, taking home two state placers; Mitchell (sixth, 220) and junior Bradley Tyack in seventh at 152 pounds.
Tyack won by fall over Chiawana’s Morgan McFee on Saturday evening.
Day one of the state tournament knocked out Senior Carlos Lopez (182) and freshman Jose Flores (160), which Decatur boys wrestling head coach Tevyn Tillman said “was pretty heartbreaking.”
The first round on day two wasn’t much nicer, Tillman said, eliminating four more Decatur wrestlers: freshman Collin Jack (106), senior Cristian Torres (138), sophomore JC Clay (152) and senior Michael Rhea (182).
“You never really know what to say,” Tillman said about consoling his wrestlers after tough losses. Reflecting back on his years as a wrestler for Decatur, he adds: “You never want to forget this feeling. It sucks, it hurts, but that’s going to be motivation for everything you do.”
This year’s 32-person bracket is also a whole different story, Tillman said.
While time constraints led the tournament to wrap up well after 11 p.m. on Saturday, the larger bracket also meant everyone who won rightfully deserved it.
“You know state champions this year are state champions,” he said.
Thomas Jefferson girls had two state-placers at the Mat Classic XXXI.
Junior Goddess Ma`alona-Faletogo placed second in state at 235 pounds.
In Saturday’s first-place match, Ma`alona-Faletogo narrowly lost to Stanwood’s Chanel Siva in a 3-2 decision.
At 120, junior Cynthia Roberts finished seventh after a win against Arlington’s Tailer Cochran.
Decatur girls, coached by Sam Hunt, took home a first place finish in 4A WIAA team academic awards. Decatur had 15 participants in the scholastic awards division, earning a collective GPA of 3.633.