The Yelm boys wrestling team is entering the thick of it as the postseason begins in February with the district tournament.
With a seventh place finish at the Gut Check tournament behind them, the Tornados will be tested once again at the Lake Stevens tournament on Jan. 14.
Coach Gaylord Strand said this is the team’s toughest portion of their schedule. Strand described Gut Check and the upcoming tournament at Lake Stevens as big opportunities for his wrestlers to get ready for the state tournament.
“Gut check is a real tough tournament,” Strand said. “Fifty-five teams came, including Lewiston (Idaho) and teams above our 3A classification. Overall, our kids wrestled really well.”
At Gut Check, the Tornados saw four Tornados place in their respective weight classes.
Two freshmen, AJ Erickson and Jonah Smith, each placed fifth in their respective weight class.
Erickson, who wrestles in the 138 pound weight class, was called a pleasant surprise by Strand. Being so young, Strand said he sees potential in Erickson due to his work ethic.
Smith, who wrestles in the 285 pound class, defeated Nathan Pritchard from Auburn Riverside and ranked sixth in the state, according to Strand.
“Jonah is showing a lot of promise,” the coach said.
Seniors Ray Wright and William Carreto each placed in their respective weight classes as well. Carreto took fifth place overall in the 182 pound class, while Wright placed sixth in the 195 pound weight class.
“We had a lot of kids get all the way through the bracket, but lost the one match that would’ve allowed them to place,” Strand said. “We needed to be tested and see what it was like being in a tournament resembling a state wrestling meet and I honestly think this was tougher than state.”
Strand noted the men’s bracket featured around 385 competitors.
With about three weeks remaining before the postseason begins, Strand said he sees several more opportunities at hand for the team to prepare for the postseason.
There are three dual meets left, including two South Sound Conference matchups. The first is on the road against Central Kitsap on Thursday, Jan. 19 and the final meet of the season will be on Thursday, Jan. 26 at home against River Ridge.
The Tornados will also participate in the Bearcat Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 21 at W.F. West High School.
But perhaps the toughest remaining meet on the team’s schedule is the tournament at Lake Stevens High School on Saturday, Jan. 14. While the varsity participates at Lake Stevens, Yelm’s junior varsity will participate in an eight team tournament at Rainier High School.
“We’re splitting our team, and it’s good for our JVs to get some tournament time,” Strand said. “They’re young and they need to learn to respond to adversity and I think this is a great opportunity for them. We’re right in the meat of the season for my varsity wrestlers. These final weekends of the season will be our toughest weekends of the year on the mat.”
The state regional wrestling tournament will be held on Feb. 11. It will be followed by the Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18.