ILWACO — Life after Kevin McNulty, the longtime wrestling coach and program builder, begins this year for the Fishermen.
Larry Kemmer, who wrestled under McNulty in the 1990s and has worked with the program in recent years, takes over as coach, bringing some continuity. But there are also differences between his approach and McNulty’s.
“Practice is more dynamic, with more cardio work and running,” said senior Brandon Duke, who reached the state tournament last year. “We’re keeping it simpler, getting a few moves really solid rather than learning a whole bunch of moves.”
“The kids have really accepted the changes we’ve made,” Kemmer said. “I really haven’t changed much other than to increase the speed of practices.”
Kemmer said he learned from McNulty about building relationships.
“I mostly learned how to make connections,” he said. “You have to believe in what you’re teaching them. As soon as they buy in, they’re yours.”
Kemmer’s son Keegan is the team’s biggest star. With lightning quick moves, he took third place at state at 113 pounds, and was second at the Beach Brawl, the marquee home meet.
Wrestling drew the biggest girls’ team Ilwaco has had in years: Carli Kemmer, Giana Krake, Daniela Mendez, Jaymie Patana, Lindsey Reed and Serena Kuhn; all but Kuhn are new.
The boys roster also has turnover, with some leaving and others joining.
“A lot of (program success) is numbers that turn out,” Kemmer said. “With turnout comes success. We have a large freshman group, and many of them have never wrestled before… We’ve got 27 boys and six girls.”
Ghannon Whelden joins Keegan Kemmer as a returning state competitor in the lower weight classes. Duke and Chris Woods are contenders in the middle weights; Duke reached state as a junior last year. Bryan Sparks regularly contended for the top spot in the 221-285 weight class last year and won a round at state.
“I think we’ll have some surprise kids…who are going to develop and do well in the post-season,” Kemmer said.
Ilwaco’s boys team opens in Knappa Wednesday, and the girls open at Napavine Thursday, Dec. 7.