Kittitas County high school wrestlers prepare for Mat Classic
Kittitas County will send 15 wrestlers from three schools to the state tournament this weekend, led by the contingent of seven from Kittitas and four each from both Ellensburg and Cle Elum-Roslyn.
The Tacoma Dome is once again the host of the annual Mat Classic, a huge tournament which not only hosts all five classifications of wrestlers (B through 4A), but also a complete girls bracket, where all the classifications are combined.
However, despite the overall size of the tournament, Ellensburg High School head coach Jason Stevenson reminded his team that each bracket is no bigger than any other regular-season tournament they’ve experienced — 16 wrestlers in each weight class.
“The brackets, they’re in are the same size of the Westberg Tournament,” he said Wednesday night. “With all these mats out there and lights, they get shell shocked, I’ve seen it happen.
“But all these guys expected to be wrestling in mid-February,” he continued. “This was their goal at the beginning of the season.”
All 15 wrestlers are guaranteed at least two matches, but all of course are hoping for more. With a handful of solid seasons thus far and a favorable place in the bracket, it’s not too far sighted to expect a few of those grapplers wrestling for a top-four finish, maybe even a state championship.
One of those wrestlers is Ellensburg senior Garrett Cheney, who placed fifth at 138 last year and is 36-2 at 145 pounds this year. His two losses were to a Selah opponent who dropped down a weight class to 138 for the postseason.
“From what I can see, the bracket looks good,” Stevenson said. “He’s capable of winning it.”
Also in the 145-pound bracket is fellow Bulldog DJ Wetzel. With many teams having so much depth on teams, state regulations allow for multiple wrestlers from one school to wrestle at state as long as they qualify through district and regional tournaments. Wetzel placed third at both districts and regionals, losing both times in the semifinals to Cheney. The two wrestlers are on opposite ends of the bracket and would only see each other in the latter rounds.
Similar to Ellensburg’s Cheney is Cle Elum-Roslyn’s Jack Moen, who placed fifth at 170 pounds in 2016 and is coming in with momentum at 182.
“He’s got the best draw of our four wrestlers,” CER head coach Jim Briggs said. “Of course anything can happen at state, but this is his third trip to the dome.”
For Kittitas, it’s a senior-laden team, as six seniors and one sophomore represent the Coyotes.
Senior Luke Peebles is a three-time state qualifier, placing third last year at 170. KHS head coach Marc Eylar sees something better this time around.
“He’s got a good chance of making the finals,” he said. “I don’t think anybody at the B level is wrestling as tough as him.”
Fellow Coyote Duwayne Magruder was fifth last year and has a favorable draw in Friday morning’s first round. Magruder, a senior, matches up against a freshman from Wilbur-Creston, where the bright lights and crowds of the Tacoma Dome blanketed with 24 mats can be intimidating for even the most seasoned veteran, let alone a freshman.
Ellensburg’s Andrew Carney began his career at Kittitas, but has wrestled for Ellensburg his junior and senior years. Carney is a four-time state veteran, placing third at the B level in 2015 (182 pounds) and fourth in the 2A 195-pound bracket. He’s again at 195 for Ellensburg this year.
“He’s got the state experience,” Stevenson said. “He’s a very technical wrestler for the 195 weight class. He moves very well. He is constantly in motion. Guys have a hard time with that. He works the angles all the time.”
While it’s a stretch to predict a top 10 finish for either Cle Elum-Roslyn or Ellensburg simply due to a lack of depth at state, Kittitas is hoping to not only continue its trend of top 10 finishes, but also come back with some team hardware that comes with a top four finish. Last year was the 10th year in a row with a top 10 team finish (eighth in 2016), and this year Eylar sees Kittitas battling Selkirk and Ilwaco for third and fourth, as Tonasket and Reardan will battle for the top spot.
“I would love to come back with a team trophy,” Eylar said. “We’re going to be battling each other for those trophies,” he said of Selkirk and Ilwaco.
As a team, Kittitas has placed second four times (as recently as 2014) and third another two times. Stevenson sees fellow CWAC school Toppenish battling Orting for the top spot amongst the 2A teams. Briggs sees fellow SCAC member Granger as the team to beat at the 1A level.
Girls at state
Ellensburg is also sending two girls to the Mat Class. Senior Iliana Tamez and sophomore Joanna Arias qualified by finishing in fifth place in their respective divisions at the regional meet Tamez finished fifth in the 135-pound weight class while Arias finished fifth in the 125-pound weight class.