Washougal’s wrestling pedigree goes back decades, but it’s not just about the boys.
The Panthers’ girls team added to the legacy in a big way, winning the Region 3 championship at Kelso High School on Feb. 15.
The Panthers topped 38 teams, including many much bigger schools as girls wrestlers in Washington currently compete in a single classification.
Washougal’s Aleksi Donahue brought home an individual title, winning the 120-pound weight class with a first-round pin over Union’s Alejandra Ayers, who topped Donahue one week earlier at a sub-regional tournament, in the championship match.
Six Panthers finished in the top four of their respective weight classes to qualify for Mat Classic XXXII, which will be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22, at the Tacoma Dome — Donahue, Josalyn Ortiz (120), Melina Aguilar (125), Ashley Garrison (135), Lacey Klopman (145) and Vanessa Brooks (190).
Senior Brooks qualifies for state in 1st wrestling season
Brooks is a longtime softball player, but never wrestled prior to this season. Her softball coaches, John and Heather Carver, are also the school’s wrestling coaches, and convinced her to give wrestling a shot last fall. She’s elated that she followed their advice.
“I’m so happy I got to do this my senior year,” said Brooks, who finished third at the regional tournament. “To be a part of this is like a second family. All of us girls are so close, especially going to the tournaments, staying in hotels. It’s so much fun,”
In her first regional tournament match on Feb. 14, Brooks was down 11-2 in the second round, but came back to pin her opponent in the final round.
“I just started driving into my opponent, and (thought), ‘What happens, happens,'” Brooks said. “It’s almost like my brain goes blank at times, and I just go for it.”
Girls support each other
Joining Brooks in the 190-weight class at Mat Classic is senior Autumn Aho from Camas. Aho is the lone Papermaker girls wrestler to qualify for the state meet, but she’s a teammate with most of the Washougal wrestlers during the club season, which begins the day after Mat Classic.
Camas and Washougal athletes and coaches fully support each other during regional and state tournaments — when they are not competing against one another, that is.
“It helps a lot that we have club together in the freestyle season, and that’s how we get to know each other and become one team together,” Aho said.
The Camas senior has gained a ton of confidence this season.
“I knew all the moves, but now I believe in myself,” Aho said.
Camas coach Mark Yamashita leads the Camas Wrestling Club, which includes nine Washougal wrestlers, all of whom competed at the regional tournament.
“We have nine Washougal girls and six Camas girls, and starting this year we will also have wrestlers from Stevenson join us in club wrestling,” Yamashita said.
Garrison qualified for Mat Classic last season as a freshman, but said she’s much improved because she’s been able to wrestle year-round thanks to club and camps.
“I go to club at Camas as much as I possibly can, and also attend wrestling camps in the summer,” she said. “I’m just trying to be my best.”
Aguilar will compete at Mat Classic for a second consecutive season, but said she is much more confident this year.
“I used to be super nervous just knowing a tournament was coming up,” she said, “but now I’m like, “OK, it’s just another day, this is what I do, this is what I love.’ Wrestling has become a normal thing for me.”