Phoenix Dubose may well be the best girls wrestler in the short history of the sport in Thurston County. Her coach at Yelm High School, Amy Earley, can’t think of anyone better.
Dubose has wrestled in two consecutive state championship matches. Last season as a junior, Dubose led the Tornados to back-to-back team titles with a hard-fought 7-5 decision over Granger’s Viktorya Torres for a 115-pound championship.
As a sophomore, she lost in the title match, but to four-time champion Cameron Guerin of Davis, who went undefeated in her high school career.
This past summer brought even more success for Dubose. She won state titles in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, took first place at the Reno Worlds at 115 pounds, and was second in the national freestyle championship in Fargo, North Dakota.
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“I got to bring back a big, tall bronze trophy from Reno like the one my brother (Cameron Dubose, who wrestles at 220 for the Yelm boys) already had,” she said.
This season, Phoenix Dubose is 13-1 and the top-ranked wrestler in Washington at 120 pounds according to Washington Wrestling Report, just ahead Torres.
The opportunity to live and train at USA Wrestling headquarters in Colorado Springs after high school is there for Dubose, also ranked third nationally at 117.
But as Dubose, a 4.0 student, ponders offers from most of the top collegiate women’s wrestling teams in the nation, she’s giving equal weight to the pre-med programs at each university.
“The body doesn’t last as long as the mind,” she said. “I want to make the best decision for my future, both for the path God has put me on as a student-athlete, and to study medicine.”
Last season, though she was Yelm’s lone individual champion at Mat Classic, Dubose was part of a tough-as-nails, six-girl contingent who all reached the podium. The thought was there the Tornados might three-peat their crown in 2019.
But Chelsey Rochester, Ashley Kile and Shelaha Brown-Stephens graduated. Juniors Brooklyn Cutler and Carly Smith — who both finished third at the Tacoma Dome last year — will miss the 2018-19 season, though both hope to return to competition as seniors.
Meaning, Dubose stands out even more as the only returning star in a rebuilding program.
Her only losses so far this season have come to White River’s Payton Stroud — the top-ranked wrestler in Washington at 125, and fourth nationally at 122 — in the finals of Yelm’s season-opening “Jump On In” tournament by 6-3 decision. And, last weekend to North Kitsap’s Holly Beaudoin — who is also nationally ranked — in the “Who’s No. 1?” event at Tahoma.
“Because it’s my senior year, it is a little disappointing we don’t have everyone we thought we would,” Dubose said. “We thought we would be able to compete for another state title. But, it’s a good thing for the program. There’s new talent to develop over the next few years.”
Earley has seen similar situations develop with other perennially successful teams. When they hit a lull, they really hit a lull. Yelm, for example, has dropped from No. 1 in the Washington Wrestling Report team rankings to a tie for 19th with eight other schools.
“It’s interesting to see teams that have won state go through this kind of dip,” she said. “Your numbers tend to drop when you’re winning, because girls who might turn out to try a new sport don’t think they can make it. We’ve gone from winning every single tournament to struggling to place.”
Earley feels for Dubose as she goes through a tough team season.
“It’s hard on me. I can’t imagine what it’s like for an 18-year-old kid to go through this,” she said. “She’s done well to pull up her bootstraps and lead.”
Dubose sees her leadership role as an ongoing resource for younger wrestlers.
“We have a lot of younger girls, and a lot of girls who are completely new to wrestling,” she said. “It’s mostly about being there for them. They’re all welcome.”
Earley, who coached Danielle Curlis to a state crown in 2008, and has an admiration for one-time Tumwater title winner Megan Johnson, sees no problem with talking about Dubose as the area’s girls wrestling standard.
“She’s dedicated so much of herself to the sport,” Earley said. “She’s focused on what she wants to do with it. Her future should lead her to international, USA national team level competition.”
“That’s my goal,” Dubose said. “To make the USA team and travel to compete with other wrestlers from around the world and gain new perspectives.”
With collegiate or international wrestling the next step, Dubose still sees area for improvement.
“As good of shape as I’m in, my cardio could be better. You can never have enough endurance and drive,” she said. “My mentality is something else to work on, not beat myself up so much after a loss, learning to correct my mistakes and move forward.”
With some newcomers showing promise, Yelm is moving forward as a squad. Angela Manley took second in the Rogers Tournament.
“She’s a senior with a big personality,” Earley said. “She didn’t find her place last year with so many studs on the team. It’s been fun watching her become a leader this season.”
Two freshmen have also shined. A’Myrha Dylina-Syya (155 pounds) wrestled in middle school and has a background in judo. She’s compiled a season record of 14-6. And Jordyn Rabailis (140) is 10-6, and reached the finals of the Hammerhead Invitational at the Kitsap Pavilion.