TACOMA — In one weekend, the state high school wrestling and boys swimming seasons came to an end at two landmark venues in Western Washington.
For wrestlers, all of their work culminates at the Tacoma Dome. For swimmers, their work flows and gathers at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
And, aside for a few exceptions, your first experience at state wrestling and boys swimming is a wide-eyed, overwhelming event.
Two Grays Harbor wrestlers and swimmers noted on Saturday prior experience at the Dome and KCAC helped them the next time they made it to state.
The Tacoma Dome is home to several WIAA state championships, including football, and other marquee sporting events. However, wrestling on the floor of the facility is a completely different story.
“This is my fourth time in the tournament; it doesn’t get to me anymore,” Elma senior Tanner Sample, who finished second in the Class 1A 126-pound division, said. “As a freshman, it was ‘Oh my God.’ It is tough to understand. I come from a tiny town, 80 kids in my graduation class, and they get here and say, ‘Wow, this is a big deal.’”
“Last year was my first year here and it shell-shocked me,” Aberdeen senior Jordon Logan said. “It was much bigger than I ever expected. This year, I came in with a goal and came out top four.”
The King County Aquatic Center was built for the 1980 Goodwill Games in Seattle and is home to collegiate swimming and diving championships and Olympic Trials. Just the history and the size of the facility dwarfs what you see at the YMCA of Grays Harbor pools.
“Going last year, even as an alternate, was a big help this year,” Aberdeen junior Levi Rose, who swam in the 100 butterfly and was in the 200 medley relay last weekend, said.
“Having that previous experience totally eliminated any pressure I felt,” Aberdeen senior Seth Caba, who was a member of the 200 free relay last weekend, said. “Familiarity is important for any setting, but even more so at KCAC, since it is vastly different from any pool. I would not have been able to swim my best times if I had not been there before.”
Once the overwhelming feeling of where you are on the mat and on the deck goes away, the experience turns into a successful one.
Sample finished his career with three state top-eight medals, while Logan finished his high school career with his first state medal in his second trip to the Dome.
Rose didn’t place in his two swims on Friday, but will have another year to achieve a spot in the second day of the meet. Caba, who also has postseason experience as a veteran varsity player for the AHS boys soccer team, shared his experience with second-year state qualifier Keegan Shippey and first-year qualifier Brandon Grigsby to qualify for the consolation finals in the relay on Saturday.
AHS freshman Dustin Young was the anchor leg swimmer on the 200 free relay and his experience mirrors Montesano freshman wrestler Jacob Ellefson. Both first-year varsity performers parlayed experience gained in club wrestling and swimming to perform well at state for their high schools.
Ellefson, a product of the Montesano Mad Dogs youth program, is a veteran folkstyle nationals wrestler who marched into the Dome last weekend undefeated. His winning streak ended with a championship semifinal loss, but he mowed through the consolation bracket to take third overall.
Young, a product of the YMCA of Grays Harbor’s Sea Otters swim program, is a veteran regional and nationals swimmer who rode a crest into KCAC with two individual events and two relay events to swim at state.
Young did encounter a brief moment of nerves when he shook on the blocks during his 50-yard freestyle preliminary heat and was false start-disqualified. He rebounded by qualifying 12th overall in the 100 freestyle and anchoring the 200 free relay.
Experience, whether you get it in the off-season preparing for your career in high school or gained through years of qualifying and moving up the brackets at the state tournaments, helps when you get to the Dome and the KCAC.
Rob Burns: (360) 537-3926; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @RobRVR.