ILWACO — It’s hazy in here, and the air is thick and warm. The confines are a little tighter than the students have been used to the last few years, but the padded room they call their home should do just fine for this group of scrappers.
The Ilwaco High wrestling team is back in their basement practice room after the school moved back into the Black Lake campus this year, displacing the team from the large abandoned lunchroom that had been their clubhouse for the last few years. The heavy weights take up one half of the room, rumbling around, while the lighter weight wrestlers take up the other half, turning and spinning. As practice comes to a close, the wrestlers pair up in mini-matches, going all out for a few rounds. Two wrestlers looking to make a splash this year matched up against each other, Riki Thompson and Evan Sutherland.
“He’s probably going to be 138 (pounds) and I’ll be 132. We all know we’re going to end up in different spots, we just want to push each other as hard as we can,” said Sutherland.
A senior, Sutherland is looking to make it to state after just missing the cut last season. For Sutherland, wrestling is quite a bit different from the other sports he has competed in during high school — track and cross country.
“They’re more running away from your problems than attacking them,” he said, noting that his choice of sports is inspired by his two older brothers. “Mainly I guess I just do the same sports as my older brothers, they set a bar. It’s just a competitive thing. I wanted to be better than my brothers. That’s just me. I guess everyone has their own reasons.”
Thompson, a junior, advanced to the state tournament last season, along with teammates Matt MacDonald and Jack Odneal, whose brother Tom won the state title in the 170 pound division.
The boys team — featuring 32 wrestlers — is essentially split between wrestlers with a wealth of experience and those with hardly any at all.
“We have the two extremes, no middle. Either new kids to the school or to wrestling,” said coach Kevin McNulty, who noted that their first year wrestling at the 2B level should also be interesting. “We’re not knowing what to expect in the league, that’s all new. Lot’s of variables.”
Along with those who went to state last year, a number of other wrestlers will be looking to take that next step, including regional qualifiers Alec Bell, Jack Kaino, DeAntay Kellogg and Sutherland.
“Our kids with experience, we expect them to make some kind of noise at the end of the season,” said the coach. “I think there’s some others who were on the periphery last year, and then you just never know about new guys.”
Senior Marilyn Thomson is a leader on the seven-player girls wrestling team. She saw marked improvement and success last season, despite having her campaign ended earlier than she had planned when she lost to teammate Hilda Mondragon in the sub-regional tournament.
This year, Thomson is sporting a new tattoo under her right ear, a small pentagram. For those looking at her from a distance — girl wrestler, multi-colored hair — they might think it was simply to make her look more intimidating on the mat. In fact, it has a much more deeply personal reason.
“This is for my mom. She recently passed away. She was a religious Wiccan, that’s what I got this for,” she explained. “I showed it to her the day before she passed away.”
Thomson said she traded time on the mat to be with her mother last season.
“I think that’s pretty much why I did so bad (at the end of the season) is because I missed a lot of time for my mom. I just wanted to be with her before she passed away,” she said. “It was a struggle last year.”
This year Thomson is coming back with a new mindset and a slimmer physique.
“I dropped a whole bunch of weight,” she said, noting that she’s around her freshman weight of 145 this season and should be able to take advantage of things she has used to defeat girls in higher weight classes the last few years.
The girls team is in good shape too, with four of the seven girls returning from last season.
“We have the same amount we had toward the end (of last season),” said Thomson.
Maria Mondragon was the only girl wrestler to earn a berth to the regional tournament, but was unable to compete. Her sister Hilda was a regional alternate.
The teams will see their first action at the Knappa Jamboree on Wednesday before traveling to Nestucca, Or., on Saturday morning. The Fishermen will host Astoria on Wednesday, Dec. 10 in their first home meet.
Wrestlers on the boys team include: Allen Chetwood, Royce Murry, Joe Thompson, Jonathan Lesseden
Brandon McMullen, Marcus Connor, Marcello Lazaro, Tony Merino, Eli Waite, Odneal, Micah Huss, Daylin Kemmer, Bell, Christian Caswell, Kaaden Gehrke, Matt Warner, Harrison Corsi, Thompson, Kaino, Joe Lopez, Brandon Sparks, Kyle Carlson, Kellogg, Sutherland, Arber Demeri, Kevin St. Clair, Wayne Harris, Harry Seo, Garret Petit, Steven Bennett, MacDonald and Kyle Bryant.
Wrestlers on the girls team include: Kasey Bageant, Maria Mondragon, Ana Abelo Sebastian, Thomson, Katlyn Ellyson, Hilda Mondragon and Jennifer Navarre.