Numbers are up in the Washougal High School wrestling program.
So are opportunities to teach, and pass on those Panther tales of failure and excellence.
“Anytime you start a season with 49 guys and 18 girls, it is exciting,” said head coach John Carver. “The thing about wrestling is, it doesn’t matter how many that start. What matters most is how many that finish.”
Twenty-six freshmen are breathing new life into the jungle. And Washougal has a strong nucleus of seniors and juniors to bring the youngsters along.
Abby Lees wrestled in the finals of the state tournament for the third year in a row, but finished in second place. Now in her senior year, there will be no settling for second best. She wants that state championship medal back.
“Second place is always in the back of your mind,” Lees said. “You know you can do better. There’s just one more person you got to beat. You just keep that one person in your mind, and that makes you keep going.”
Morgan Ratcliff is determined to improve on her third-place finish at state.
“I want to do better than last year and push myself harder because I know I can achieve more,” she said.
The Washougal girls wrestling team finished in fourth place at state. With Lees, Ratcliff, Mialisa Oster, Brooklyn Wurm-Wertz, Jaden Robb, Samantha Eakins, Mikah Bartel and Jenna Beaver back for another season, the Panthers are aiming for the top three.
“We had a lot of girls who came so close to making it to state last year,” Ratcliff said. “I know they can do it this year. They just have to put their hearts to it.”
Juniors Michael Hickey and Tanner Lees are part of a returning squadron that includes seniors Dylen Cherry, John Gable, Dylan Kiemele and Nick Wolfe, and juniors Andrew Hopple, Tanner Klopman and Hunter McPhail.
“I think we have been doing a good job of competing and pushing each other,” Hickey said. “We have a lot of freshmen, but they’re working hard. They’re meeting the standards that they need to meet.”
The Washougal girls team earned third place at the Yelm Jump On In tournament Dec. 3. Abby Lees captured the 235-pound championship and Wurm-Wertz won the 170-title. Ratcliff took third place, and Oster followed in fifth place, at 155. Robb grabbed third place at 130.
The Panther boys team placed sixth at the Estacada tournament Dec. 3. Tanner Lees finished in first place. Cherry, Kiemele and Cole Pass also competed in the finals.
Tanner Lees looks forward to becoming a better wrestler every day with his brother, Scott, sister, Abby, and teammates.
“I like the family feeling,” Tanner said. “If you have a problem, go to anyone. They will help you or find someone to help you. We’re all a big family. We can help each other, no matter what.”
Abby Lees and Ratcliff are also coaching the younger girls in practice.
“Even though I’m leaving after this year, the things I’m teaching will carry on through them,” Lees said. “It’s never going to end because we all help each other and make each other the best.”
Head girls coach Heather Carver said it best.
“The success of our program is going to come down to who has the hardest work ethic and the most heart.”
Only the strong survive. Those words are true on the wrestling mat and in life. That’s how the Washougal “tradition of excellence” continues.