ILWACO — Last year brought a big group of new wrestlers into the Ilwaco program, and this year coach Larry Kemmer looks for continued progress from that group.

“A lot of kids came a long way from where they started,” said Larry Kemmer, who is entering his second year as head coach.

Daniela Mendez, now a sophomore, took up wrestling for the first time last year and developed a passion for the sport, which has become her main athletic focus.

“I learned to be tougher,” Mendez said. “I used to just do track and cross-country. I feel like wrestling made me discover what I was truly passionate about. When I’m running now, I’m doing it to prepare for wrestling season. I just liked how hard (wrestling) was.”

Mendez learned to trick opponents, faking one move and then countering the counter-move. She is working to improve her stamina for long, tough matches.

Nate Hopkins made steady improvement as a first-year wrestler.

“He’s made a big jump weight-class wise, and I think he’s stronger and that will help him,” Kemmer said. “He’s honed some things. He’s got particular moves he likes and he knows when they’re available.”

Hopkins uses the sweep single, a move where the wrestler goes after the legs from the side rather than straight on.

“It’s less strenuous than coming underneath someone,” Kemmer said.

Kemmer teaches an arsenal of moves, but his wrestlers find their individual styles.

“It’s not so much me, as them going out and competing and finding something they can do repetitiously. I provide them with moves to use, and they use what works best for them,” Kemmer said.

Kemmer notes Noah Cherry as another rising talent.

“Noah Cherry (improved by) leaps and bounds. He was in a group of three in his weight class, and we could only send two to the post-season, so he stepped down to give upper-classmen the opportunity.”

This year, he will have that chance.

Aiden Auttelet had a breakthrough year last year, reaching the second day of State, and plans continued improvements.

“I’ve done some really intensive camps with four workouts per day,” he said. “I think I’m going to be stronger at riding people this year than last year.”

Keegan Kemmer, Larry’s son, was third third at State each of the last two years and is the most accomplished wrestler for the boys’ team, which lost standouts Ghannon Whelden and Brandon Duke to graduation. Kemmer has ultra-quick moves and has maintained an athletic edge even as he moves up in weight class, from 106 at the start of his freshman year, to 138 at State last year, and possibly to 145 this year.

“When he was younger, he was stronger than most guys in his weight class…Now it’s more even, so he has to be a more technical wrestler.”

Michael Rodda and Bryan Sparks gave Ilwaco lots of wins in the boys’ 285-pound weight class and return to try to build on that success.

Ilwaco opens at Ocosta Dec. 7 at 8 a.m.

Girls team

Serena Kuhn, who dominated last year’s Beach Brawl at Ilwaco, returns for the girls’ team, along with Mendez. Joining them are Alyssa Duke and Bethany Martin. While it was often hard in the past to find enough girls’ tournaments, this year’s girls’ tournament schedule is nearly as full as the boys’ schedule.

“We picked up two extra tournaments. [Girls’ wrestling] is growing so much as a sport that there’s more tournaments available.”

Aaron Mead is a sports writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or aaroncmead@gmail.com.

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