A decade ago, Gonzaga Prep wrestling coach Phil McLean was winning the last of his three successive state championships while competing for Deer Park High School.
Until this year, Gonzaga Prep had never before had a finalist, let alone a state wrestling champion.
Last weekend, coach and athletes combined to remedy that.
In an all-Greater Spokane League final between two North Side sophomore 108-pound competitors, G-Prep’s Cory Brannon beat Mead’s Jon Rugan to earn Gonzaga’s first state wrestling title.
Three matches later, Brannon’s Bullpup teammate, Steve Steigleder, finished second at 129 pounds.
“Cory came out of the woodwork the last three weeks,” said McLean. “Honestly, I was not counting on him placing because he’s a sophomore and it was his first time in the (Tacoma) Dome.”
Brannon was a good friend of North Central’s Eddie Jones, who was killed last week in an off-road vehicle accident.
“He took it pretty hard and wrestled well under the situation,” said McLean.
It was Steigleder he had thought might win a medal. The four-year Gonzaga wrestler, third at state two years ago, was on a mission after not qualifying last season.
“I feel that was one of the toughest weight classes there,” said McLean. “To get where he did was a real accomplishment. There are not many kids who can go six minutes with Steve. By the end he melts them down.”
Athletes and coach are on cloud nine after accomplishing something no others at Prep have.
“I’m trying to let the kids soak it up, but I’m pretty pumped,” said McLean. “I would take kids winning a state title over my own.”
Mead wrestler Troy Hughes, after two previous second-place finishes, won his first state wrestling championship.
Other North Side athletes to place in Tacoma were 275-pounder Matt Miethe, who went from third in district to second in state, and Mike Knight, third at 115, both of Rogers; Mead’s Justin O’Connor, fourth at 190 pounds; and Shadle Park’s Corey Laughary, sixth at 148.
Easy as one, two, three
On another mat, McLean’s alma mater placed fifth at the State A-B wrestling tournament.
It was as easy as one-two-three.
One. Alex Schulz won his second straight state championship, adding the 178-pound title to last year’s 168-pound crown.
Two. Clint Umbach finished second at state for the second straight year, reaching the finals of the 129-pound weight class just as he had done at 108 the previous year.
Three. Wes Williams, in his first state appearance, placed third at 275 pounds.
Thus the Stags, who finished just third during the Northeast A League dual match season and who had but four state entrants, recorded the highest finish among area schools.
Schulz is the youngest of five brothers who wrestled at state. Two of them won state championships and two others finished second.
Alex is perhaps the most physical, as his opponents found out last weekend. He tossed them around like rag dolls for a pair of technical falls (15-point decisions) and a 9-point win to reach the finals.
“It comes from four months of training,” he said. “The coaches know how to stomp on you just right.”
His 10-6 victory over previously unbeaten Tony Puz in the finals also was a case of superior muscle early in the match.
It was the last match of his career, a fact that he realized during his final weigh-in on Saturday.
“Winning two titles in front of 25,000 people was wonderful,” he said. “You’ve got to love the glory.”
Moving up three weights made Umbach’s repeat finals appearance gratifying even though he lost 7-2 to Connell’s Jorge Ortiz.
A junior, he’ll have one more shot at the title.
“I thought the weight jump would be awfully tough for him to overcome,” said Deer Park coach Dean Largent. “He’s such a scrappy kid, anything can happen.”
Included was a 10-6 semifinal victory over Lakeside’s Ben Orth that put him in the championship match.
Williams nearly reached the finals of the tournament, dropping a 4-point semifinal decision. But the fact that he finished third pleased his coach.
“He was hot and cold for us,” said Largent. “There was a period in January where he was not consistent at all. Wes picked the right time to come back.”
After a hot first session, Lakeside High, with eight entrants, fell upon hard times. The Eagles lost all but the Orth twins, Ben and Bart.
Three-time state-placers who had suffered assorted injuries this year, the two finished in fourth place at 129 and 148 pounds, respectively.
Bart was a state champion in 1993 and his brother placed third. Last year they were both sixth-placers.
This year Ben reached the semifinals with a victory over previously unbeaten Max Chwaszcewski of Vashon Island, who ultimately topped him to place third.
Bart lost by a point to Connell’s Tony Jenks in a second-round match, yet ultimately finished higher than Jenks.
Riverside’s Henry Peterson completed a career in which he finished second once and first twice at state, including this year.
“He wrestled a heckuva tournament,” said his coach, Randy Miller. “A three-time state placer. There’s not much more to say.”