It was a dramatic storybook finish for senior Tanner Lees of Washougal, who is now the Washington State 2A wrestling champion.
The 145 pound wrestler had to win four straight matches during the two-day Mat Classic Championships, held Feb. 16-17 at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington.
Lees put in dominating performances in his first two matches, but got into some serious trouble in the semi-final match.
He was going against top-rated wrestler Jake Freeman of Clarkston, Washington. With only 38 seconds left, Lees was down 4-0. That’s when he looked over to his father, who has helped coach him out of binds like this since the first grade.
“I actually yelled and told him you need to snap him down and cradle him,” recalls Lees’ father, Randy. “It was a pretty scary moment, I was down by four points and running out of time so when my dad told me to snap him down and cradle him I knew I had to do it,” says Lees. That’s exactly what he did, he locked his arms around his opponent’s head and legs and flipped him over onto his back, pinning him with just five seconds to go.
“It was incredible because he looked at me, listened and then he actually did it and honestly that doesn’t usually happen,” says Lees’ elated father.
The impressive last-second move earned Lees five points, so he could have won the match even without pinning his opponent.
Lees said the butterflies were really fluttering during the title match against Westin Lyver of White River, and again when he found himself in another challenging position. Down 3-0, with time running short, Lees turned to one of his favorite moves called a “cast and throw the hammer.” It worked perfectly. He put his opponent on his back and pinned him with just 28 seconds to go — winning the state title.
“It felt so great,” Lees says. “Alll of those years of hard work, and now I can say I’m state champion. I guess it all worked out.”
One of seven children — with another sibling on the way — Lees comes from a wrestling family. His older sister, Abby, is a two-time state champion who won titles her sophomore and senior years at Washougal High School. His younger brother, Scott, a sophomore, was an alternate to state this year. Another brother, Fisher, is a wrestler who will be a freshman next year.
Randy, Lees’ dad, got Lees into wrestling when he was in first grade, and brought him along while he was training at the East County Cyclones wrestling club in Washougal. The younger Lees seemed to have a knack for it and enjoyed coming to practice, Randy says.
“He really took a liking to it at an early age,” Randy says of Lees’ interest in wrestling. “He started wrestling other kids who came to practice with their fathers and it wasn’t long before we were driving him to Battle Ground twice a week to the Southwest Washington wrestling club, so he could train and compete with kids his own age.”
Lees says the support from his family and coaches has kept him going through the years.
“It means so much that I have the support of my family and coaches and teammates,” Lees says. “Throughout the state tournament they all kept saying they believe in me.”
Lees says he had a blast celebrating his big win with family and friends, but now his focus is on his goal of winning another state championship this year.
Lees is one of Washington’s top pole vaulters, having finished eighth at state his junior year. Now he wants to go out on top and win double state championships.
“Not only do I want to win state, I have a goal of beating the school record which is 15 feet 3 inches,” Lees says, adding that he’s already started training for what he hopes will be another storybook ending.
It was an outstanding year for the Boys and Girls wrestling teams in Washougal. Both teams were league Champions posting undefeated league seasons. In addition to Lees’ state title, Brooklyn Wurm-Wertz placed fourth and Jaden Robb seventh. The boys team finished 16th out of 67 teams.
“All of our eight state wrestlers represented the Washougal community well, ” says head coach John Carver. “Each wrestler truly exemplified our motto of win with humility, and lose with dignity.”
The ‘other’ Tanner helps Camas make history
The Papermakers have their own state wrestling champion named Tanner.
Camas High junior Tanner Craig also had a dramatic come-from-behind victory in his title match against CJ Richmond of Sumner, Washington — a rival who beat Craig several times last season — at last weekend’s wrestling championships.
Craig was down 1-0 with only 38 seconds left when he got a 2-point reversal and held down his opponent for the biggest win of his life.
Craig is now a 4A state wrestling champion in the 132-pound weight class.
The Camas Junior placed eighth at state last season, but his coach Corey Vombauer says: “This is the season Tanner made a huge jump, his body became more mature and his strength started catching up with his size.”
Vombauer adds that Craig works extremely hard, running wind sprints every day.
“His lungs enable him to go 100 percent all the time and he knows it,” the coach says.
Craig’s father, Pat, also is one of the team coaches and actually coached Vanbaum, Camas head wrestling coach, when he was a student at Evergreen High School, leading him to his own state title.
Craig had one of the best seasons in Camas history with 35 pins and only one loss. However, at the district and regional tournaments, fellow Papermaker Rylan Thompson dropped down into Tanner’s weight class and actually beat him at both events. Thompson entered the state tournament ranked No. 1, and Craig was ranked No. 2. Thompson placed fourth at state, losing in the semi-finals to the wrestler Craig would eventually beat in the final match.
Senior Samuel Malychewski had a great tournament, placing third in the 195-pound weight class, and his younger brother, Gideon, a sophomore, made it all the way to the semi-finals in the 160-pound weight class. Junior Jack Latimer placed third at 131 pounds. This impressive showing by Camas led the school to a fifth place overall finish, the highest finish in 4A school history.
Though the high school wrestling season is over, Vanbaum will soon be training wrestlers in grades 6-12 at a Camas wrestling club called “Elite.” Practice starts in early March and state champion Tanner Craig will be there, working hard to defend his state title next year.