Erica Grant badly wanted to advance to Mat Classic.
Last year, the Olympia High School junior fell a match short of qualifying at regionals, but signed on as a manager for the weekend, accompanying teammate Hailey Henry to the Tacoma Dome.
This year, she had every chance to earn her way into the usual field of 16 in her 130-pound weight class. She’s ranked seventh in the latest Washington Wrestling Report poll, and carries a 30-6 record.
When a winter storm knocked out the annual regional tournament last weekend, Grant and Olympia’s eighth-ranked 235-pounder, Karlee Mosser, and four of their teammates automatically advanced to the state tournament.
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Each of the Bears is slated in the new 32-wrestler brackets, which were announced Monday for each of the five boys’ classifications and the girls classification.
“Seeing the whole environment last year inspired me. It’s huge. I really wanted to be on the floor and wrestle there,” Grant said. “I told (coach Ryan Pittmann), ‘I’m going to be here next year.’ It’s jaw-dropping how cool it is.”
Pittmann has watched Grant build from those moments a year ago into someone who might well reach the state podium this season.
“Erica’s mindset’s been so focused on making it to the Dome, everyone she wrestled was a chance to get better and make it to state,” he said. “She’s shored up her technique a little bit.”
Both Grant and Mosser, who was ranked as high as fifth in the state in 2017, but also fell short in regionals, acknowledge that an improved mental approach has helped them this season.
Grant doesn’t seem to be one to back down from a challenge. She played junior varsity football for the Bears as a sophomore, even got onto the field for a few plays during varsity games. And, last summer, she finished 11th at the USA Weightlifting youth championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
She comes from a family of four brothers who got her started in wrestling when their father was stationed with the Army in Heidelberg, Germany. One brother, Alex, was a state participant for the Bears in 2014.
Yet, actually wrestling on the mat wasn’t her easiest task in previous seasons.
“Last year, at dual meets I’d hope there wasn’t anyone in my weight class so I wouldn’t have a match. At tournaments, I’d want to wrestle the least amount of matches possible,” she said. “I didn’t believe in myself at all. Every time I lost I’d think, ‘Oh, I’m not a good wrestler.’ ”
This year, Grant has turned her attitude around.
“Now, I think the more mat time I get, the better I’ll be,” she said. “I’ve learned to be confident. I’ve come back with a totally different mentality. If I lose, I learn from my mistakes and come back stronger.”
When the Bears were short-handed at a dual meet, Grant would jump in and wrestle at 135 or 140 in addition to her own 130-pound match to gain the added experience.
Mosser, whose dad Levi competed for the Bears in the 1990s, is another seasoned wrestler whose background would seem to ensure a strong mental approach, but she also said, “I let my mental attitude defeat me in regionals last year.”
The loss prompted her to change her thinking.
“I wrestled (club) during the offseason, kept up my conditioning, maintained my weight,” she said. “When I came back this season, I had a more positive outlook. I realized that I shouldn’t let little things get to me. What Coach Pittmann says is, ‘If you can’t do anything about it right now, don’t stress about it.’ ”
One thing Pittmann believed Mosser, who heads to Mat Classic with a 27-5 record, could do something about was her variety of techniques on the mat.
‘The biggest thing for Karlee has been working on new moves. She was very one-dimensional last year,” he said. “There were times we told her, ‘We have to try some new things in this tournament — whether it works or not.’ Her toolbox has really broadened. Now, if one move isn’t working, she has other things she can go to and has confidence in.”
Pittmann teaches a weight training class at Olympia, with both Mosser and Grant as students. They’ve never strayed long from discussing the state wrestling meet.
“The motto for both of them is they’re going to place,” Pittmann said. “Ever since September, we’ve been saying everything we’re doing is to get to the Dome and get ourselves a medal.”
Also advancing to state for the Bears are Kylee Heaston (115 pounds), Carissa Watson (170), Payton Irish (190) and Black Hills student Olivia Toussaint (105), who wrestles with the Bears as part of a co-op program in girls wrestling between the two schools.