A school record-setting 2017-18 season for Columbia High wrestlers that included five Bruins winning medals at the State tournament did not result in a larger turnout for the 2018-19 season.
Bruins Coach Stoner Bell, who leads the boy's program, suggested a number of factors for the downturn in turnout size.
“We graduated a lot of our seniors last year, we had several bad injuries last year, and concussions and we did not get all of those kids back,” Bell noted, “and we are experiencing the result of several years of very small middle school turnouts. And lastly and always, it is extremely tough to wrestle.”
Consequently, only 20 wrestlers turned out for the 2018-19 season (16 boys and four girls). Fortunately, seven boys and two girls return to give Columbia High wrestling a strong base from which to make its post-season moves.
This year’s top returning wrestler is senior Hailey Johnson, who placed fourth at State and first at Regionals last year wrestling at her original weight of 115. The fourth-year wrestler started off her final season on Dec. 1 with a third-place finish at the all-girls Jump On In tournament in Yelm. Through Dec. 18, she was ranked No. 3 at 125 pounds by the Washington Wrestling Report.
“I think Hailey will get to State again and I expect to see her in the finals,” Bell said.
Junior Payden Webster, now in his third season, is the only returning boy with State tournament experience. He has moved up to 120 pounds from 106. He finished third at 106 pounds at Regionals in 2018 but went 1-2 and failed to place in his State debut.
Through the month of December, Webster fashioned a 14-2 win-loss record that included first-place finishes at the Bruin Interstate Invitational on Dec. 8 and the Down River Challenge in Cathlamet on Dec. 15. His coach has high hopes for Webster’s post-season chances.
“Payden will get to State again and I expect him to finish midway in the medals,” Bell said.
Junior Jack Kelly, who’s also in his third year, is wrestling at 126 for the second year in a row. His results so far have been good: a 14-5 record, placed second at the Mark Morris Three Rivers Classic in Longview on Dec. 1 and took third at the Down River Challenge on Dec. 15.
“Jack will get to State and I think he has the ability to place,” Bell said.
Maddie Deo, a 2018 State alternate, is another third-year wrestler with hopes of getting to the Tacoma Dome in February. The junior, who wrestled at 135 pounds a year ago, has moved into the 140 class this year. Her best result so far was first at the Bruin Interstate Invitational.
A trio of former Regional participants, all heavyweights, add to Columbia High boys wrestling’s list of potential State qualifiers.
Senior Bryan Pereda (2017 Regional participant) and sophomores David Durham (2018 Regional participant) Juan Acosta (2018 Regional participant) all are in their second season of varsity wrestling.
Acosta posted a 10-6 record in December meets. His results included second at the Three Rivers Classic and fourth at the Down River Challenge.
Pereda was 7-5 in the first half of the season. In his only meet to date, Durham went 2-1 and placed third at the Down River Challenge.
“I think we will get two heavyweights to State,” Bell said, “But I am not sure which two. At this point, they can all beat each other on any given day.”
Columbia High’s top middleweights this year are junior Sean Stennett and sophomore Dylan Muehlbauer, both in their first season of full-time varsity wrestling.
Stennett, who has moved up one weight class every year of his prep career, has gone 4-8 so far in the 152-pound bracket. His top finish last month was sixth at the Cathlamet tournament.
Muehlbauer, too, is wrestling at a new weight: 170, up from 160. In limited action last month, he went 1-3 with no placings.
New to the CHS boys lineup this year are sophomore Jose Evangelista Villa, who is wrestling at 195; and freshmen Mathu Schroeder (113) and Josiah Nelson (182).
On the girl's side, junior Sydney Vargas returns at 130 pounds, the same weight she wrestled at two years ago before sitting out last year. Her top finish so far this season was first at the Bruin Inter-state Invitational.
Qualifying for the boys State Tournament begins Feb. 2 with the Trico League Championships at La Center High School.
The top four wrestlers in all 14 weight classes will advance to the Region III Tournament, where they will face off in 8-man brackets against the best of the South Central Athletic Conference’s East Division. The Regional meet will take place on Saturday, Feb. 9, at Castle Rock High School.
On the line will be 56 spots on the mats at the 31st annual Mat Classic, slated for Feb. 15-16 in the Tacoma Dome.
Girls hoping to qualify for State also will have to follow the Regional format. CHS has been assigned to Region II, which will stage its tournament at Decatur High School on Feb. 9.