Youth is being served at Mead where six of seven state qualifiers are juniors or younger.
And they’ll be traveling without another youngster, state placer (and potential title contending sophomore) Tyler McLean, whose season ended prematurely with a knee injury.
“I don’t know if it’s the sophomore curse, but they all seem to go through adversity,” said Panthers coach and Tyler’s dad, Phil McLean.
He was referring to a year ago when Jordan Rogers, state champion as a freshman, was sidelined the week of his sophomore Mat Classic by an emergency appendectomy.
Jeremy Golding, however, was untouched by the perceived jinx. Golding knocked off two-time state titlist Ephraim Aguilar of Graham-Kapowsin last year, 5-4 in overtime of the 125-pound finals, bringing home one of four Greater Spokane League titles (and 16 total among area wrestlers in all classifications).
The 171-pound Rogers and 135-pound Golding head another powerful area contingent in all classifications to this weekend’s Mat Classic XXIII two-day state championships Friday and Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
Rogers used his setback as motivation for a return to the Tacoma Dome and another crown. Along the way he won three national freestyle or Greco-Roman youth championships this spring and summer, a Pan American crown and finished second in the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. He enters state 37-0 with 35 pins.
“I don’t know if it was the time he took off or if he’s maturing physically,” McLean said. “But mentally he came back 10 times tougher.”
What motivates Golding (37-1) is his own perceived insecurity.
“I get nervous,” he said. “I know not to underestimate anyone and don’t want to get beat.”
Once on the mat after calming words from teammates, however, the angst disappears – and his “upper-body strength of a 189-pounder,” as Rogers puts it – takes over. It enabled him to upset Aguilar and escape another title favorite, Dustin Utecht of Richland, in last weekend’s regional final.
“He competes so hard and is such a great athlete you can never count him out,” McLean said. “He’s not slick but just keeps winning. He refuses to lose.”
The gregarious Rogers, along with his freshman brother, Chandler, who finished second in regional at 145 and is also state-bound, arrived at Mead in sixth grade highly credentialed. He began wrestling in Clarkston at age 4 and was familiar with the traveling club freestyle scene. Like Golding, he won his first state title, at 140 pounds, in overtime.
“That was definitely a big deal for me,” he said. “It was my first year of high school and the kids I wrestled were all older than me. Once I got to the finals my goal was to get four state titles. Once I got to overtime, I felt really calm and held it together for the last minute or so.”
Last year he had an epic season series with University’s Jake Mason at 160 pounds. The two met five times last season with Mason holding a 3-2 edge. They never got the chance to resolve it at state because of Rogers’ appendicitis. Mason captured his second title.
Summer served as training ground for this weekend and the catalyst for Rogers’ goal to become an Olympian.
Golding began wrestling in second grade, but didn’t get serious until ninth grade. He placed eighth in state that year.
“I was a hyper kid,” he said. “(His parents) put me in SJW (the area’s beginning junior wrestling program) to let some of my energy out.”
He began working harder in high school and began filling out physically.
“I finally got some technique down and moving up in weight helped a lot,” Golding said.
Recalling last year’s state-title performance, he said, “I think I was more nervous because I wanted to do better than before and made myself sick.”
He also knew if he found a calm place on the mat he would do all right and won easily into the semifinals before pulling out two tense victories for the crown.
“Once in the final I kind of felt, ‘Oh, I don’t care if I win,’ and just went out there and wrestled,” he said.
Obviously, there’s pressure on both to repeat, but there’s more at stake. Mead’s state qualifiers, of whom 189-pounder Shane Kuykendall is the lone senior, can challenge (along with Central Valley and its eight state participants) for a team title in a wide-open race.
Whatever happens this year, both Rogers and Golding say there’s excitement in the room. Eight other Panthers placed in the top six at regional, three of them one place away from state. Phil McLean won two state team titles as coach at Gonzaga Prep. Now there’s expectation this year or next at Mead for another.