Girls, Boys wrestlers perform well for Highline-area schools
Girls and boys.
That's right, both genders placed high for Highline, and Kennedy and Evergreen had one, too.
They were on the podium -- in third, fourth, seventh places-at the Washington Mat Classic XXII State Championships at the Tacoma Dome Friday and Saturday Feb. 19-20.
Kennedy Catholic senior Steve Conn finished third place overall in the 171 pound weight class while Lancers girls team member Taylor Stagliano placed seventh at 160 for this private high school in Burien. Good finishes for head coach Donny Moore.
And, for Highline, sophomore Jamila Culcleasure won all but one match and that was good enough for her to finish third.
Sixteen of the state's best westlers compete in each weight class, so a third place finish like third for Culcleasure, at 275, was good, if not unexpected, if one looks at how Culcleasure started out the season -- green.
"First year wrestler, converted basketball player," said Highline coach Steve Peterson, who is on his way out after having coached the past 10 years for the Pirates. "She's got to learn a few more moves. She never wrestled in her life before this season."
Culcleasure pinned her first two opponents before a loss to the eventual state champ put her in the loser's bracket. And, again, she pinned two more opponents -- quickly in the first round -- to leave her first state appearance quite noteworthy and one to watch for the future.
In Culcleasure's loss, this 220 pound sophomore star wrestler explained a large reason why she lost, which is the first step toward not losing again the same way.
Culcleasure wrestled in a semifinal winner bracket match and was pretty awesome, according to Peterson, having won state back-to-back seasons before this season as well as being a two-time national champ. So, that's the caliber Culcleasure went up against.
But "awesome?" Uh, don't say that word to Culcleasure.
"I wouldn't say, "awesome,'" 'cuz I kind of gave it to her," said Culcleasure.
But you got pinned, Jamila?
"I gave her my arm and she took me to my back," said Culcleasure. "In wrestling, giving someone your arm is not good."
Because, even though, like you are a muscular 6-1 girl, you still, once you give an opponent your arm, are at their mercy to just twist you around like a pretzel whichever way they want to go?
"Yeah, She twisted my arm around..."
And your body had to follow, no choice?
"Yeah, and she took me to my back and pinned me," said Culcleasure.
But, aside from that one little blip on the radar, this season was a lot of fun, fun, smooth sailing for Culcleasure -- a lot of fun experiences that she just couldn't get any place else in her mind.
"It was amazing," said Culcleasure. "I started with basketball and went to wrestling."
Culcleasure was a star player on the Pirates basketball team, even as a freshman, so the coach of the basketball team was out there trying to get her to switch from the winter wrestling sport back to basketball.
"He came out and watched me," said Culcleasure.
And, now that the first wrestling season is done and there's the first year of basketball played as a freshman, what was better?
"If I had a chance (to choose between the two sports), I would do it all over again, wouldn't change a thing," said Culcleasure, who was the only wrestler in the top eight for the Pirates. But Kay Mansaray was there. She went two and out. But was there, making it to state, and, she is a senior, like her twin brother Prince, who took fifth at state last year but unfortunately lost this year in the regional meet.
Kay Mansaray spoke yearning words of this sport -- wrestling -- that for girls is catching on more and more every year.
"I just wish I had done this in ninth grade, " said Mansaray, putting in a good word for this sport too.
"Me, too," said Melissa Pidde, who is a senior and wrestled for Highline this season.
For some it's not too late to still have fun in high school wrestling for girls, like Paige Joyce, a 103 weight class sophomore for the Pirates, and Emily Birdsong, a freshman.
"She looks short, but she is awesome when she gets on the mat," said Birdsong, and other girls around her like Mansaray, were agreeing.
Wrestling is not only good for girls to do, even against the boys because the boys make them better, it is a great way these days to get money for college, also known as a scholarship.
"It's picking up," said Peterson, who hopes his assistant coach, a former Pirates three-time state participant and two-time state placer, Casey Rice can coach after him. "There are a lot of scholarships now in college for women in wrestling. It's a sport to be in if you want to go to college."
Look for Culcleasure, too, in track, in discus and shotput, that's another good sport for girls, and, boys, to help with expenses to college.
Senior Lancer Saglio wrestled tough at 160, toughest in fact in her very last match where she twice looked on her back and about to be pinned.
But Stagliano used her powerful lower body strength to free herself from what looked like certain doom.
Led by Donny Moore, yelling "drive your legs, drive your legs," when Stagliano was on her back for the final 30 seconds of the first round the first time in that unwanted position. She drove her legs powefully enough that she could get herself to the outside of the mat, and, also, be buying time and making the foe, Genesis Gonzalez of Warden, reposition herself to redo a pin try.
The second round commenced and Stagliano early on, in the first 30 seconds, found herself again on the bottom. And, then, as Gonzalez was successfully starting to turn over Stagliano, she heard her coaches yelling at her to driver her legs. Stagliano did, and it did change things completely as right after that being dominated in round two the first 30 seconds, her leg drive helped her do a reversal on Gonzalez and subsequent pin just 40 seconds into the second round.
What did your coaches do for you in this one?
"They helped me get off the bottom," said Stagliano, adding, "They can see things you can't see."
Your coach was really yelling important stuff out there, you were listening.
"I have four coaches," said Stagliano, "Coach Kostecka, coach Nasess, coach Proctor, and, coach Moore."
Last year, Stagliano made it to state, too.
"But I didn't place," she said.
Kennedy's 171 pounder, Conn, found himself in a tough semifinal match, after having beaten Patrick Phelps of Timberline (Olympia) by pin in 1:25 of the third round and then Taylor Whetzel of Mount Spokane, 10-5.
In that semi, Conn wrestled strong, grabbing at the legs of Ben Carter of North Central (Spokane), and, making his foe hop around on the mat. But Conn, as good as that was, to get Carter in an awkward position, could never get Carter to succumb to that kind of moves and forced movement by Conn. Conn lost by pin at 1:52 seconds into the second round.
Conn was behind 6-1 before the pin sent him into the loser's bracket. That forced Conn to go for gambles. But, before that, the chances to bring Carter down on leg grabs and shooting were there but not...finished.
"A couple shots he didn't finish," said Moore. "Those are shots you need to get for points."
Conn could have won that one and advanced to the final if the shots could have been completed?
"He had a shot," said Moore.
Conn went through the loser side of things then, getting subsequent wins over Danny Lopez of Everett, 4-3, in overtime, and, then Colton Malek of Enumclaw, 8-4, for third place.
For Evergreen, at 215, Thomas Yandall took fourth place. His road was a win over TJ Blackburn of Mercer Island, 6-4 in OT, before beating Danny Almeida of Sunnyside (Yakima) by injury default. Then, after a loss to Alec Birdie of Everett, by pin 49 seconds into round two, Yandall beat Chris Harlin of Liberty (Issaquah), 4-3, before falling to Jimmy Trull of Bellevue by pin (3:32) in the third-fourth place match.
Others for the area that made state but did not place included Kevin Bishop of Mount Rainier (112), and, Khalid Abebe of Mount Rainier and Moses Torres of Tyee (119), and, Markus Surrat of Mount Rainier (140), and Shawn McGlynn of Mount Rainier, Niels Humphries of Evergreen (160) and Chandler Breaux of Kennedy (189).