PORT ANGELES — The North Olympic Peninsula is a hotbed of wrestling, with one juggernaut in Forks, rising programs in Port Angeles and Port Townsend and a huge throng of freshmen and sophomores grappling in Sequim.
Don’t be surprised to see several kids from around the Peninsula challenging for state titles come February as the Spartans’ boys team will make another run at the top of the podium.
It’s a growing sport on the Peninsula with more than 125 boys and girls out to wrestle at the four schools (including some kids from Chimacum who wrestle for Port Townsend during the regular season).
Forks came in fourth at the 1A Mat Classic after coming in sixth in 2017.
The good news? The Spartans only graduated three wrestlers from that team that came in fourth, and only one of those graduates placed at state last season.
Forks comes into every season with lofty goals. Coach Bob Wheeler doesn’t mince words when asked if his team has a chance to win the 1A state title this year.
Wheeler stressed that if the Spartans work hard and maintain their focus, “I strongly believe we could be the first Forks [team] state champion.”
“They’re confident, sometimes they’re too confident, that’s been the hardest part,” Wheeler said of his wrestlers. “Sometimes they don’t do the little things to reach their potential. It requires work.”
Wheeler said the Spartans “grew in a lot of weight classes,” with a number of kids moving up a class or two this season from last year.
Leading the Spartans is defending two-time state champion Josue Lucas. However, Lucas won both of his titles at 106 pounds and as a senior, he has moved up to 126 pounds.
Lucas has already discovered this is an entirely different weight class as he was beaten at the Patriot Dome Classic by Daniel Basden of Port Angeles (granted, a 2A wrestler that Lucas won’t face in the postseason).
How good is Forks? They came in second at the recent Patriot Dome Classic, where 16 teams were competing. They lost by 1.5 points to a 3A school, Lincoln of Tacoma.
The Spartans also have six other returning state placers on the roster, including senior Luke Dahlgren, who won regional and subregional titles last year and came in fourth at state at 220 pounds. Dahlgren has moved up to the heavyweight (285) class this year.
Ariel Morales also is back. He won a regional championship and finished fourth at state at 126 pounds last season and will wrestle at 138 pounds. Colton Duncan came in fifth at state last year at 126 and won a regional championship. He is at 132 this year.
Colby Demorest is back at 160 pounds. He finished seventh at state last year and won regional and subregional championship and already won his weight class at the Patriot Dome Classic. Shane Queen finished seventh at state and won a regional championship at 170 pounds and Eden Cisneros finished eighth at state last year and won a regional championship at 195 pounds. Cisneros has moved up to 220 pounds this year.
Other veteran wrestlers include Luis Perez, Keith Thompson, Brett Moody and Bryan Elena, Karen Ensastegue-Salazar, Annhelica Wells and Brenna King. In all, Forks has 28 boys and six girls on its team.
Port Angeles Roughriders
Port Angeles also has some big goals this year and the Roughriders showed they are a strong squad with a third-place showing at the Patriot Dome Classic, behind only 3A Lincoln and powerhouse Forks.
“We’re looking good, we’re ahead of the game. I love this team. This is the best freshman class I’ve ever had,” said coach Rob Gale.
The Riders don’t return any state placers, but Gale thinks this team has a chance to place a number of kids at the Mat Classic.
“I wouldn’t be supruprised if we can send six to eight kids to state,” Gale said.
Looking good already is Daniel Basden at 126 pounds. Basden beat two-time defending state champion Josue Lucas at the Patriot Dome Classic. (Though Lucas won the state titles at 106 pounds).
Gale expects North Kitsap to be one of the tougher teams in the Olympic League 2A Division and the Riders get a chance to see where they stand with the Vikings right away with a dual meet Thursday.
The Riders have a huge contingent of 35 grapplers on their team. Other boys to watch are Adam Borde at 132 pounds, Gavin DeVore at 138, Jackson Larsen at 152, Scott Hedin at 120, Riley Gale at 160, Dominick Timperio at 182, Trevor Shumway at 182 and Corey Danielson at 195.
The Riders also have nine girls wrestling, the most ever for Port Angeles, Gale said.
Sequim has a very big, but young squad, with a particularly large contingent of girls athletes.
The Wolves have 18 boys and 11 girls. “Almost a full mat of boys and a full mat of girls,” said new head coach Erik Wiker.
The Wolves’ girls team has been particularly strong the past couple of years, with Sequim girls picking up individual seconds at the Mat Classic the past two years. Last year, Kiara Pierson got second at state, but she has graduated.
Petra Bernsten has won already for the Wolves. She was first in her 140-pound weight class at the Return of the Seahawk meet last weekend. Aleah Chen, a veteran from last year, is also back this year for the Sequim girls.
Sequim will have a total of just three seniors on the team, Jakob Pyeatt at 138 pounds, Murray Bingham at 160 pounds and Ben Castle at 182 pounds. All the other wrestlers are either sophomores or freshmen, though Logan Laxson at 182 pounds and Noah Eveland at 285 are veterans of last year’s team.
“A lot of these kids have never wrestled before,” said assistant coach/girls coach Rich Hay. “We’re young, young, young.”
Port Townsend Redhawks
Port Townsend also has big goals this year in the Olympic League 1A Division. The Redhawks have 17 boys and one girl on their squad (Brenna Franklin, who qualified for the Mat Classic last year.)
The Redhawks have two wrestlers ranked in the top 10 this year — Kyle Caldwell of Chimacum at 195 pounds (Chimacum kids wrestle on the Port Townsend team until the postseason, then they wrestle for their home school) and Dylan Tracer at 182 pounds, who went to the Mat Classic last year. Gabe Petrick, who also went to state last year, is back at 160 pounds.
“I’m excited, we’ve got some very good upper weight kids. This is a great group of kids, too. And smart too. Every kid has a great GPA,” said coach Steve Grimm.
Grimm said the Redhawks’ meet with Klahowya on Monday will be a good test to see where Port Townsend stands in the Olympic League 1A Division.
Last year, the Redhawks had several wrestlers “who came very close to placing, but didn’t. But, they saw what it took to place,” Grimm said.