Excitement and high expectations surround Camas wrestlers as they train and work on moves for the new season on the almost blinding red practice mats that surround each athlete with Papermaker pride.
The Camas boys are coming off the best year in the history of Camas wrestling after finishing fifth at the state tournament last season. They return five wrestlers with state tournament experience, including Tanner Craig, who led the team last season winning the championship in dramatic fashion as he came from behind with 30 seconds left in the match to clinch the title in the 138-pound weight class.
Craig is back for his senior season to defend his championship.
“I’m hoping to win it again this year, but in a more dominating fashion,” Craig said during a recent practice at Camas High School.
Craig, an excellent academic student as well as top athlete, has already committed to wrestle for Army West Point next year.
Four other wrestlers return with state experience for boys team
Jack Latimer battled his way to a third-place medal at state last season and is currently ranked first in the state in the 132-pound weight class.
Latimer said experience from last season will help him rise to the top for this final high school year.
“I shouldn’t have lost last year. I think it’s because I mentally psyched myself out a bit,” Latimer said. “Last year’s experience makes it a bit easier this year, but there are a few state champs in my division, so you never know.”
Also back for a run at winning it all during his senior year, is Gideon Malychewski, who placed fourth in state last season.
Malychewski’s older brother, Sam, who graduated high school last year, won third in state last season. The younger Malychewski plans to earn a championship trophy, and is working hard to find the weight class that gives him the best shot of winning.
“I’m weighing 170 right now, but will be going down to 160 pounds next weekend because I’m moving around to see what weight class gives me the best options,” Malychewski said. Rounding out the highly experienced boys team are senior Isaac Duncan and junior Colby Stoller, who both participated in the state tournament, but fell short of the trophy rounds.
“I’ve doubled up on my weightlifting, and I’m working hard,” Stoller said.
The first big challenge of the new season was the Rose City Championship held at Westview High School in Portland on Dec. 8.
Craig and Latimer both won titles for their respective weight classes against some of the best wrestlers in Oregon and Southwest Washington, including two Oregon state champions.
Camas head boys wrestling coach Cory VomBaur said he really likes how his team is shaping up this season.
“As our kids get more experience on bigger stages, they begin to understand things better so someone’s speed and power doesn’t surprise them as much,” Vombaur said.
This is the coach’s fifth season leading the Camas boys team, and he understands his team’s drive to state. During his younger years, Vombaur won a state title wrestling at Evergreen High School in Vancouver and had a highly successful collegiate career at the University of Wyoming.
“Our basic motto for Camas wrestling is connect with friends, family, the community and the sport of wrestling,” Vombaur said.
Eight freshmen are on the Camas girls varsity wrestling team
Mark Yamashida returns for his third year as Camas’ head girls wrestling coach. His team is very young this season, with eight freshmen starting on a varsity roster of 14 wrestlers.
Many of those freshmen are new to wrestling, so this is their first-ever season. The girls are quickly gaining experience however, going up against more experienced wrestlers early in the season. Two of the first meets were at large schools in the Puget Sound region.
Yamashida said the tougher competition up north will pay dividends later in the season.
“We are really trying to expose them to wrestlers who are tougher and more experienced before we start wrestling in our league,” Yamashida explained.
Leading the way for the girls team are sophomore Ellie Sabatina and junior Autumn Aho. Sabatina earned a spot as an alternate for the state tournament last season as a freshman and is a favorite to go the state tournament this season. Aho just missed going to state by one match last year, and has been working hard in her offseason to improve, according to her coaches. The last Camas girl to make it to the state tournament last season was Lacey Dunlop, who finished eighth in state two years ago.
The coaching staff hopes to eventually develop several state-bound wrestlers on their team. One of the secret weapons may be the knowledge and experience the wrestlers can gather from assistant coach Melissa Watkins, who won a state championship for Camas in 2008.