OTHELLO — The stage has been set for quite some time, now it’s a matter of dealing with a new dynamic and a 32-wrestler bracket at the Girls Mat Classic XXXI this weekend at the Tacoma Dome.
The Othello girls are coming off their fourth consecutive Central Washington Girls Wrestling team championship and roll into the state tournament as runaway winners of the 4A Region 4 Sub-Region North.
With the recent storms around the Pacific Northwest, all regional tournaments were eliminated and everyone that got out of the sub-regional has qualified for the state tournament. All that translates into more wrestling to get where they want to go.
Othello qualified 10 wrestlers, including sub-region champions Emily Mendez (105) and Jacky Peguero (120). Royal and Wahluke qualified one wrestler apiece.
So the real story this year is how will the expanded bracket affect the tournament, if at all?
“I think by adding more matches it changes the dynamic of the tournament,” said Othello coach JJ Martinez, whose team won the Sub-Region North by 168 points. “I think what your going to see is a slew of toughness in every bracket because no one’s staying at home. They’re going to have to wrestle with a mental toughness they haven’t had to before with the extra matches. They’re going to have to wrestle four or five matches in a day if they’re going to succeed.
“It’s also going to make me coach differently. It’s going to be like last summer with Team USA, where I moved around a lot to be at every match all over the place. It’ll be fun and we’re looking forward to it.”
Mendez (41-0) is the No. 1-ranked 105-pounder in the state, according to the Washington Wrestling Report. She beat No. 3-ranked Melanie Flores of Moses Lake in the Sub-Region championship match to set up her run at the Dome.
“Her expectation is to win a state championship. We haven’t taken a day off since she got upset in the semis last February,” Martinez said. “She’s taking it personal. She’s taken it serious and she’s put in a lot of hard work during the summer with USA Wrestling and in the room during the season.”
Mendez has won every tournament this season, but she’s well aware of the challenges to come against the state’s elite wrestlers.
“As you go through the postseason, you wrestle tougher and tougher girls and competition adds to the suspense,” Mendez said. “You’re like, OK, let’s see what’s going to happen today? That’s what makes me want to keep going.”
She is just a junior, but she is the leader in the room Martinez said.
“The other girls see all the work she puts into it and what she does in the summer to get to the next level and they want to work hard too,” he said. “We learn from the failures and that’s something I preach to the girls, is that we learn from our mistakes.”
Last year, it was just the De La Rosas representing Royal at the Dome. It’s the same this year, but they are changing the culture of girls wrestling a little bit along the way. Knights heavyweight Marissa De La Rosa (29-7) qualified for the second straight year with a third-place showing at sub-regionals. She’s also ranked No. 9 in the Washington Wrestling Report rankings.
Her father David De La Rosa is coaching the girls program at Royal, but got some help from Wrestling Coaches Hall of Famer Ruben Martinez, who is in his first season as the boys coach.
“The last coach we had didn’t include the girls in the room with the guys, so we would roll out the mats in the cafeteria, then roll them back up every night,” De La Rosa said. “We did that again this year, but Ruben asked why we were doing that. I explained and he said, how are you going to work up a good sweat in an open room. Come on in and work out with us.
“If you want me or my staff to work with the girls or want them doing our workout, let me know. If you’d rather coach them all yourself, let me know what I can do to help.”
The combination of working in the same environment with the guys, didn’t translate into more girls qualifying for the next level, but did put some things in place for the future, De La Rosa said.
Out in Mattawa, Laly Gonzalez (26-4) is making a name for herself and leading the way for the Warrior girls program. The No. 3 ranked 155-pounder in the state won the sub-region championship and now she has her sights set for the big stage and the top shelf on the podium.
“I think winning the sub-region championship shows how much work I’ve put in and that the work is paying off,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t take a lot of shots, my style is more of a counter-puncher and reacting to my opponent’s attack. This year I’m just trying to work hard to improve every day, so we’ll see how that translates at the Tacoma Dome.”