Friday, December 3, 2021
Dec. 3, 2021

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La Center wrestlers can finally call themselves league champions

High schools: Tim Martinez

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

The La Center High School has piled up its share of Trico League championships over the years — football, basketball, softball, soccer, cross country, just to name a few.

But one sport missing from that list, almost noticeably so, was wrestling.

“I grew up in Ridgefield,” La Center wrestling coach Kyle Simmons said. “And La Center always had good teams. But (Ridgefield) was better, or Washougal was better. And even after reclassification, Castle Rock has been just nails every single year.”

It was difficult for La Center to beat anyone in a dual meet when Simmons took over the program in 2012. Back then, the program had just seven wrestlers.

“It’s always been the goal to beat Castle Rock and be the champions because they’ve always owned the league in wrestling,” senior Max Muffett said. “And it never really seemed possible because we didn’t have a full roster, until this year. Once we had the wrestlers, we started winning.”

With 24 wrestlers out this season, the Wildcats went to Castle Rock last Tuesday in search of history.

“Going into that match, it was ours,” Muffett said. “We were there to take it. Then by the end, it was ours.”

The match started with the 126-pound match and senior Ian Crocker.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned to have the first match,” Crocker said. “Normally, I liked to get hyped up, watching my teammates’ matches. So it was different being first. But I figured ‘get out there, give it all you got,’ get the team rolling, get some points, and hopefully get everyone else inspired to get going.”

And it worked.

“That got me fired up,” senior Hunter Mallicoat said of Crocker’s opening win. “That first win helped us feel like ‘OK, let’s keep this lead.’ Then after that, we never lost the lead and kept putting points up.”

The clinching match came at 285 with Muffett moving up in weight to fill out the roster.

In classic coach mode, Simmons had worked it out that if Castle Rock won the last four matches by pin – starting at 285 – the Rockets would win by two.

“Max was at 205, wrestling a kid in the 250s,” Simmons said. “And at the start, Max got thrown on his back.”

It caused for a moment of trepidation, but Muffett was able to quickly roll his opponent over and get the pin to seal the victory.

“I don’t know how much the kids understood, if they were doing the math in their heads,” Simmons said. “But the coaches knew, and I knew. We started fist-bumping there after Max’s win that locked it in. The kids, once we got a match or two away (from finishing), is when it started to set in for them.”

More wins came for the Wildcats and the lead grew, ending with a 50-28 triumph.

“Everyone was super excited,” Mallicoat said. “We had to hold a couple guys back from getting on the mat. Everybody was fired up, and I loved it.”

The fact that the win came at Castle Rock was the cherry on top for La Center.

“Mr. (Matt) Cooke, our athletic director, was kind of teary-eyed at the end,” Mallicoat said. “It was just an awesome experience.”

Simmons said for several of his wrestlers, Tuesday’s win was years in the making.

“They’re up here; they’re working hard,” Simmons said. “Everybody wants to compete. Everybody’s contributing, which is just awesome to see as a coach. It’s great to see that hard work paying off.”

Now, buoyed by the league champions, the Wildcats are charging hard into the postseason, starting this weekend with the district meet at King’s Way Christian.

“Seeing how we’ve been able to compete with the teams in our league, it would take a lot, but it wouldn’t be completely a shock to me if we could pull off some kind of upset win at district,” Simmons said.

Muffett added that the win was not only validation for the senior wrestlers, but can be an inspiration to his less experienced teammates.

“We showed that we can beat some of the best in our district,” Muffett said. “That gives a lot people hope on this team. We have a lot of wrestlers come out who didn’t think they could do much, had never wrestled before. They’ve actually proven they can be assets on this team, and are very good wrestlers themselves.”

Very good wrestlers, and now, finally, league champions.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached (360) 735-4538, or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.