It’s a new year at West Valley High, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince wrestling coach Mike Bundy.
“It still feels like last year to me,” the second-year head coach laughed. “Maybe because I haven’t had a break yet.”
A confluence of events landed Bundy the job of head wrestling coach just two weeks before the start of practice last year, and between freestyle wrestling, tournaments, clinics and camps, there has been little time away from the mat.
But there is a big difference this year.
A year ago West Valley forfeited four weight classes in every dual match all season. The Eagles began the season with 25 wrestlers, but that number dwindled to just 17 by season’s end.
Still, those few Eagles flew high in the postseason.
Bundy took five wrestlers to the state Class 2A tournament and had four wrestlers place. Two of those wrestlers return: senior Austin Hilderbrand, who enters the season ranked No. 2 at 126 pounds, and who placed seventh at 120; and senior Desiree Harms, ranked No. 2 among girls at all classifications at 155, where she was fifth a year ago.
This year the numbers are significantly better.
“I’ve got 40 kids in the room this year and it looks like we’re going to be able to start a full lineup this year,” Bundy said. “That alone will make a big difference in the atmosphere at practice.”
And last year’s state tournament success should carry over.
In addition to Hilderbrand, three more Eagles enter the season ranked among the best in the state according to the website Washington WrestlingReport.com, which tracks the sport statewide. Senior Levi Parsley is ranked eighth at 120 pounds. Junior Ricky Miller, who was pinned by teammate Alex Hachman in the consolation final at regionals a year ago, is ranked No. 7 at 285.
A key addition this year comes by way of a transfer. Sophomore Jace Malek transferred from Reardan after placing second in the state at 220 a year ago and is ranked No. 3 in the bigger classification.
“I think that’s always a big help to have a quality kid transfer in,” Bundy said. “He played football and had a great season and he comes in with a lot of experience as a young guy.”
Having Harms back for her senior season is a plus, as well.
“She’s a great competitor and having her wrestling for us forced me to think through my approach,” Bundy said. “In the end, wrestling is wrestling. The basics are still the basics, whether you’re a boy or a girl.
“Desiree is very athletic and very competitive. She was second at the junior nationals in Fargo, N.D., over the summer and that kind of experience is great to have in your practice room.”
Over all, he said, the numbers are encouraging.
“I think this group has taken to having me as their head coach,” Bundy said. “We’ve talked a lot about how this senior class wants to leave the program in better shape. They have to work hard and push the young guys behind them.
“We’ve talked about how they have to stay positive and help teach the young guys, and how easy it is to discourage them.”
Bundy said the support the program gets from other sports continues to be a big help in rebuilding the program.
“(Former head wrestling coach) Geoff Hensley is my assistant and he’s also the defensive coordinator for the football team,” Bundy said. “He and head coach Craig Whitney have been incredibly supportive and have helped steer players into wrestling. The two sports are so good for one another – there’s a long list of great football players who were also standout wrestlers.”
Bundy hasn’t confined his work to just the high school varsity. He’s put time in at Centennial Middle School, helping to build up that program.
“The plan is to get those middle-school wrestlers in and get them a couple years of experience before they get to the high school as freshmen,” he said. “That makes a big difference. They know the basics and they’re not just thrown into the deep end.
“You need that kind of depth to be competitive. I think our league (Great Northern League) is one of the toughest in the state. Look, we have Colville coming up from Class 1A and that’s always a tough program. We still have Deer Park and that’s one of the best programs in the state. East Valley is always tough. Just getting out of our league is an accomplishment.”
That, he says, is why he is putting so much emphasis on building the sport from the bottom up. Supporting youth wrestling programs and freestyle programs is key to building the high school program.
For his varsity wrestlers, Bundy has a full schedule planned, beginning with the Inland Empire Classic tournament next week at Central Valley.
“I want to give my kids every chance to wrestle that I can,” he said. “I have a full freshman schedule together and a full JV schedule together so that they can wrestle just as much as they possibly can.”