The first time you step into the jungle to wrestle with the Panthers, you are part of a family that strives for excellence.
“We have a great tradition of quality wrestling in Washougal, and the coaches want that tradition to continue,” said head coach John Carver. “We believe the development of work ethic, confidence, self-discipline and training are great motivators for life after high school. We want these kids to come back here as adults and say ‘wrestling for Washougal got me where I am today.'”
Carver could go on and on about the leadership provided by seniors Chism King, Brendan Casey, Michael Huck, John Barrette, Taylor Neu and Zac Schepp. Instead, he pointed out freshman Matt Leifson’s determination to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
“Not only did Matt’s dad wrestle for Washougal, but so did his father before that,” Carver said. “It’s great to have kids out here like Matt who are able to say, ‘my dad wrestled for Washougal, I wrestle for Washougal, and my kids are going to wrestle for Washougal.’
“The prime reasons we win is because of our sportsmanship, the integrity of our athletes and their coachable spirt,” he added. “Once you’re a part of the wrestling family in Washougal, you are always a part of the wrestling family. That’s our tradition.”
Wrestling season is in full swing. After falling short to La Center in the home opener Thursday, the Panthers bounced back with a powerful performance the next day at the Ranger Invitational in Estacada, Ore. King was crowned champion at 112 pounds, Barrette grabbed second at 171 and Trevor Johnson took third at 285. Huck (145), Casey (160), Cory Wicklander (119) and Matt Wilson (152) all finished fourth in their respective weight classes.
Washougal looks forward to hosting two exciting matches this week. On Wednesday, the Panthers welcome Skyview, Fort Vancouver and Castle Rock. And then, it’s the Camas-Washougal wrestling showdown on Thursday. Both matches begin at 6 p.m.
“I hope the Camas match is as exciting as it always is. I trust that it will be,” Carver said. “Wrestling Camas makes us better because they always put together a good team on the mat. Growing up here, I love the rivalry. I loved playing in it, and I love coaching it. These kids still look forward to it, and so do their families.”
After capturing the league championship last season, Carver would love to see the Panthers contend for another. At the same time, R.A. Long is out for redemption and Mark Morris, Woodland and Hockinson all appear to have improved. Casey, Huck and King are determined to improve on their performances at the state meet. King finished in fourth place, and Casey and Huck lost both of their matches.
“Our expectation is that each one of them brings home a state medal for our program,” Carver said. “Every senior wants to have their best year in the program. By the hard work I am seeing at the beginning of the season, and the number of practices made, I see them all putting forth the effort to have their best season.”
King had only lost three matches last year, before coming up short in the state semifinals and the consolation finals.
“I’m really working on my defense. I don’t want to be taken down,” he said. “I’d love for us to be league champions again, and to go all the way at state.”
Casey and La Center’s Gabe Bunker had the match of the night Thursday. Casey claimed the victory by the score of 8-6. In a sign of good sportsmanship, both wrestlers hugged each other after the match.
“I always show respect to the guys that I wrestle,” Casey said. “They make me better.”
Casey wears his Panther colors with pride. He also runs on the cross country and track and field teams, and throws the javelin in track, but nothing gets him more fired up than having a wrestling match.
“I always look forward to wrestling. It’s my best sport, and I want to make it as far as I can,” Casey said. “I would love for our team to place really high at state. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a state title. It would be great if our senior class could bring one home.”
Casey is a big believer in the winning tradition of Washougal wrestling, and he is not the only one.
“I cannot thank coach Carver, coach Anderson and all of the other coaches enough,” he said. “They push us to the limit, and they want nothing but the best for us. We all know that, and that’s why we give it all.”