Defending state team champions are preparing for stretch run of the season and will compete this week at Clark County Championships at Skyview High School
VANCOUVER — It is called the Parade of Athletes, and it is among the greatest spectacle of Washington high school sports.
Every medalist from every classification at Mat Classic is honored, walking into the Tacoma Dome in front of thousands of wrestling fans, just prior to the finals.
A year ago, the Union girls wrestling squad got to walk in that parade as the team champion. It was not official yet, but by then the Titans knew they had clinched the title regardless of the results of the final matches.
Here come the champions.
“There’s so much energy and joy, just pure joy,” said Nevaeh Cassidy, now a senior who placed third as an individual last year at 155 pounds. “There’s just this giant herd of all these amazing athletes, all these wrestlers who worked so hard. A lot of people get emotional when watching all those wrestlers walk. You’re there, and you’re just so full of joy and happiness.”
“I just remember we were all linked arms, and we were all laughing, and talking about how amazing it was,” added Riley Aamold, now a junior who finished third at 125 pounds last year. “We were all so happy.”
Alejandra Ayers, now a junior, was on the team, too, but she was watching the parade from the side. She had just missed placing as an individual. Still, she had a great point of view.
After all, every match counts toward a team title.
“It was so awesome watching them,” Ayers said. “We saw them pass by and waving and it was so awesome. I was so proud. We knew we all won, so it was just pure joy. Nothing could stop us.”
This week, the celebration continues.
The school just received its huge picture-poster to showcase the team title, one that will soon be placed inside the school gym.
Later this week, the Titans will compete in the prestigious Clark County Wrestling Tournament. This year’s tournaments, boys and girls, will be at Skyview High School. The boys wrestle Friday and Saturday. The girls will wrestle Saturday. The plan is for finals to begin, tentatively, at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
The state champions look forward to competing.
“It’s a really good tradition,” Ayers said.
“It’s more like community,” Cassidy said. “Winning it is cool, but this tournament is more about being local, being in the area. Your whole family can come watch you. Your friends can come watch you if they want. Just a lot of fun.”
The Clark County Tournament is the unofficial start to the stretch run of the season, as well. In a flash, it will be time for regionals and then state. Mat Classic is Feb. 22 and 23.
For this season, the Union girls always get to call themselves defending state champions.
“We use it to motivate our newer girls, to motivate ourselves,” Cassidy said.
This season’s leaders tell the younger wrestlers about Annabelle Helm and Krista Warren, individual state champions last year. Plus, they note that one does not have to win it all to contribute to the squad.
“Each person needs to participate and do their best in order for us to collectively win as a team,” Aamold said. “We like to show them that they matter. Their points count toward our win, as well, so they will work harder, too.”
It is all about the work in the wrestling room on all the non-tournament days that will lead to success in tournaments.
“We’re just trying to show the girls what it actually means to be state champs and how much dedication it takes to be on this team,” Ayers said.
Union graduated two state champions so it will be tough to repeat as team champions. Not impossible, though.
“We’re going to work really hard toward it. It’s not something we’re going to assume we’re going to get, but it’s not something we are going to assume we can’t achieve, or can’t get,” Cassidy said. “It’s not something that’s pushed off the table at all.”
“We’re going to shoot for it. Wherever we end up is what we deserve because we worked for that,” Aamold said. “I still think we can place pretty high at state.”
Ayers recalled that last year, the Titans did not focus on winning tournaments throughout the regular season. Instead, they just kept preparing for state. She described it as working toward the end-goal.
That is the plan this year, too.
No matter how the Titans finish, they will know they have given it their best. It is what the sport has taught them, that they get out of it what they put into it.
“Wrestling for me has been something that has challenged me. That’s why I like it, why I love the sport so much. It’s not just something anybody can do. It’s something you have to work really hard for,” Cassidy said. “For the females, it’s something that makes us unique. Even as the sport is growing, it’s still fascinating to people. ‘Oh, you’re a girl, you wrestle? That’s fantastic.’”
Aamold enjoys the dual goals of the sport.
“With wrestling, you can work on it for yourself and also be part of the team,” she said. “Your team will have you reach your personal goals.”
“I found myself,” Ayers said. “I was really shy. I found family, basically. That first time I got my hand raised, I just wanted to wrestle and wrestle and have more mat time.”
They work in order to achieve, in order to experience lifetime memories.
Like walking in a parade on the state’s biggest stage.