There was a time when Metro League wrestlers were quickly eliminated from the state tournament.
But with a recent surge in numbers of participants, better coaching and a better culture throughout the league, wrestlers from the Metro League are closing the gap on the rest of the state.
They aren’t dominating, but they aren’t getting dissed and dismissed one by one anymore.
“We use our past as a little bit of incentive,” said O’Dea coach Jeff Anderson, who has been with the Irish for 30 years. “We’re kind of catching up a little bit. There’s been some rough ones at state, even when we’ve qualified 14 kids.
“We’ve had it in those years where we’ve gone two (losses) and out. So, at the end of a great season, you end up 0-28 at state on the first day. That’s a little hard to take. We’ve had that a few times.”
O’Dea’s 12th-place finish in Class 3A in 2018 is the high-water mark for the league in the 31-year history of Mat Classic. The Irish took 15th last season with 77 points, posting the highest point total by a Metro team at Mat Classic.
O’Dea junior Dustyn Camacho claimed the 220-pound state crown last year to become the Irish’s first state champion. Camacho is chasing another historic crown after returning in December from a knee injury suffered last July.
Joining Camacho atop a state title podium last year was Nathan Hale senior Dominic Damon, who won at 145 pounds to become the first state champion from Seattle Public Schools.
“The quality of Metro is growing,” said Ingraham coach Thomas Taylor, a 2006 graduate of Tyee who qualified for state as a senior. “The state-placement numbers show that and the participation numbers show that. That’s because coaches take it as a matter of pride in erasing the ‘Metro is the doormat of the state’ perception.
“Coaches have put in time with their team in the offseason to help their teams get better.”
In state history, five Metro wrestlers have accounted for just six individual state titles. Eastside Catholic’s Matt Iwicki is the only Metro wrestler with two state titles, winning 120 in Class 3A in 2013 and 145 as a senior in 2015.
The number of state placers (top-eight finishers) for Metro wrestlers has gradually grown over the years. The league went from three state-placers in 2015 and evolved to 10 state-placers in 2019, with a chance, based on WashingtonWrestlingReport.net rankings, to reach 14 at Mat Classic XXXII beginning Friday.
A pair of Metro wrestlers top state rankings in Class 3A as Jahvius Leui of Chief Sealth occupies the No. 1 spot at 285 pounds and Camacho sits at the top of 220.
New coaches such as Taylor and Derek Lopez at Rainier Beach have turned around once-floundering programs. Taylor has made the turnaround in three seasons and Lopez in four, both hiking turnout numbers above 50.
Ingraham locked up its second consecutive unbeaten Metro League dual-meet, regular-season championship at 15-0, edging 14-1 Beach with a double-dual victory in its regular-season finale Jan. 30.
The season before Lopez, a former O’Dea standout wrestler and Irish graduate in 2003, took over the Vikings, they suffered through an 0-15 season in 2015-16 with just four wrestlers. Those numbers have changed now.
“The more kids you have in your room, the better everybody gets,” Anderson said. “You start to develop that culture.”
Taylor got kids who maybe couldn’t afford to turn out in his corner. He did it with something as simple as “The Box.”
“That’s a big thing that helps our program,” Taylor said. “To an outsider, it’s just a cardboard box, but for many of our kids who show up not knowing they need wrestling shoes or not being able to afford them, it’s a place to go and make sure you’re a part of the team.
“It started with some of my old shoes and shoes from friends, and it’s grown to a place where our kids put shoes when they get a new pair and our alumni put shoes after they’re finished. ‘The Box’ is a huge reason we get new kids and retain kids.”
Taylor is confident his Ingraham team has the depth to improve upon the 24th-place finish at state last season and become the first Metro school to crack the top 10.
“Of course, I’m biased with my team, but when we’re fully healthy I think we have the horses to finish in the top 10 this year,” Taylor said. “Every program is growing right now in Metro. That’s making an impact. And there’s a level of dedication of the coaches.”
Beach is 55-4 in four seasons under Lopez. Until Lopez’s first season in 2016-17, the program hadn’t had a winning season since 1991.
“A lot of the teachers at the school didn’t even know there was a wrestling program at the school,” Lopez said. “We had to do a lot of promotion.”