Programs win league titles for the first time
The postseason begins this weekend for high school wrestling.
Oh, but before getting there, allow the La Center Wildcats and Prairie Falcons the chance to celebrate the regular season one more time.
After all, they’ve never been here.
La Center won the Trico League title for the first time in program history. Meanwhile, Prairie won the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League’s dual season, a first for its program.
“It’s been something my kids have been working for for a long time,” Prairie coach Rob Smith said.
He recalled a solid team seven or eight years ago that “set the standard for what the program was going to be like.”
Each team since then has picked up on those expectations and worked toward a title. The Falcons were close for so many years, finishing second.
The 2019-20 Falcons got it done, going undefeated in league matches.
La Center also went undefeated in the Trico League.
“Pretty damn awesome,” coach Kyle Simmons said. “It’s been something in the making.”
When he arrived eight years ago, the program was having difficulty with numbers. The program finished with “seven or eight” wrestlers, total, that first year. This year? The Wildcats have 24 in the program, including seven senior leaders.
And now, that elusive title is theirs.
“I wasn’t going to stop until we did it,” Simmons said. “Cool to see it come to fruition.”
Prairie understands that, too.
“They were ecstatic,” Smith said of his Falcons. “They know they will forever be etched on the walls. They are wanting to put Prairie on the map.”
To do that, though, it cannot be just a one-time thing.
“The tough part … you’ve done it once, now the expectation is to do it again,” Smith said.
The Falcons will be up for the challenge. Smith said one day he wants his wrestlers to walk into another gym and hear: “Oh man, those guys are here.”
The key to La Center’s success has to be the numbers. Simmons said for years he has wanted to fill out the lineup. It is difficult to win duals, after all, with a bunch of forfeits.
This season, for the first time, La Center had varsity wrestlers in all 14 weight classes. And for the first time, La Center beat perennial power Castle Rock.
“They were so stoked,” Simmons said.
Matt Cooke, the school’s athletic director who used to coach wrestling, said he shed tears of joy after that win.
Among the top wrestlers to watch from Prairie going into district, regionals, and, they hope, state: Bridger Paradis (138 pounds) Jason Wilcox (145) Ben Matson (170) are all ranked second in the weight class in Class 3A by the Washington Wrestling Report. Brody Schlaefli is ranked fourth at 285.
Among the top La Center wrestlers: Max Muffett is ranked sixth at 220, but he is expected to wrestle at 195 in the postseason, his coach said. Ian Crocker (126 pounds) and Hunter Mallicoat (138) are both ranked eighth in 1A.
District tournaments will be held this weekend. Regional wrestling isFeb. 15. Mat Classic, the state wrestling championships, will be held Feb. 21-22 at the Tacoma Dome.