Yelm High School’s wrestlers aren’t shy about proclaiming their goals for the 2018-19 season. The Tornados don’t shout the usual chants at the end of meetings and huddles.
Instead, they holler, “State champs!”
With Yelm undefeated in both dual meets and tournament competitions so far this season, it seems realistic Yelm could bring home the boys program’s second state title, and first since claiming the Class 3A crown in 2010. The Tornados are currently ranked second behind defending champion Mount Spokane by Washington Wrestling Report.
“It’s always a goal to win state, but it’s not always within your grasp,” said Gaylord Strand, Yelm’s hall of fame coach, who is now in his 45th season with the program. “This year it might be.”
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Derrick Platt, Yelm’s returning individual state champion at 195 pounds, is more emphatic.
“It’s a must for us this year. We’ve taken every tournament so far. The mindset is there,” said Platt, who reached the state meet in each of his first three years. “This is the best chance we’ve had since I’ve been in high school.”
Yelm took eighth at Mat Classic XXX last February, with five wrestlers reaching the podium in Platt, Steven Reyes (second, 145 pounds), Chayton Miller (second, 160), Ryan Davis (fifth, 126) and Gage Nelson (seventh, 106). Jason Nelson (170) and Cameron Dubose (220) advanced to the Tacoma Dome, but didn’t place.
Platt has become the centerpiece of Yelm’s athletic programs during his senior year. As a hard-hitting linebacker in football, he was named the 3A South Sound Conference’s defensive player of the year. In addition to his strong wrestling resume, he also competes in track.
The workload, on top of carrying a 3.78 grade point average, has been a tough one for Platt, but rewarding.
“It’s a little taxing on my body,” he said of the rapid changeover from football. “Taking all those hits over an extended season, I really could have used some recovery time. On the other hand, there’s a lot of positive carryover from the tackles I made in football to wrestling.”
His results on the mat haven’t suffered. Platt is 16-0 and the top-ranked wrestler in 3A at 195 pounds this season.
“Derrick’s a great athlete,” Strand said. “He doesn’t put all his eggs in one basket. He’s got it all right now, with football and wrestling. He’s a team leader with a lot to prove every time he goes out there.”
Indeed, Platt has noticed a change in both his own thinking and the vibe he picks up from opponents from a year ago, when he was coming off of a third-place finish as a sophomore.
“Last season, I would go into a match thinking ‘I’ve got to win.’ This time, I go in thinking, ‘I’ve got to pin this guy,’ ” Platt said. “I can’t take any match lightly, even if I know I’m wrestling a JV guy from another school. I’ve got to think of every guy as a state champion.”
With his team 12-0 in dual matches, paired with first-place finishes in tournaments at Edmonds, Olympic, Tumwater and Black Hills, Strand points to his team’s depth as a key to competing with Mount Spokane in both the regional and state meets.
“We only lost three seniors from last year,” Strand said. “We’ve got seven kids returning who have state experience and we’ve got some really strong freshmen.”
Reyes is undefeated this season at 13-0, and ranked second at 138 pounds behind defending champion Blake Haney of Mount Spokane. Gage Nelson (13-2, ranked third at 120) and Braden Hill (11-3, ranked 10th at 182) both moved up in weight class with little adverse effect.
“Gage’s strength has grown with him,” Strand said. “He’s put in a lot of work wrestling freestyle and Greco-Roman during the offseason. Braden was a state alternate at 145, but he’s still growing.”
Miller (14-3, ranked fifth at 160) is hunting a fourth consecutive state appearance. Davis (13-2, ranked third at 126), Reise Eide (15-3, ranked fourth at 132), Jason Nelson (14-5, ranked fifth at 170) and Dubose (15-5, ranked fifth at 220) also add to Yelm’s depth.
Strand has also been impressed by Alejandro Escobedo (11-6), a senior back on the team after sitting out two years, who is wrestling at 285 pounds despite carrying just 210 pounds on his frame.
The Tornados being placed in the same region with Mount Spokane could be a blessing or a curse, as either could limit the other’s number of wrestlers moving on to state with a strong regional performance. The regional meet will be contested on the western side of the state.