Going into the family business was a pretty easy decision for Matt Hanson.
The oldest son of longtime East Valley wrestling coach Craig Hanson joined longtime friend Martin Mitchell when the former EV assistant coach took over the Rogers High School program. Hanson spent two seasons coaching the Pirates before joining his father’s staff this season.
“I really enjoyed working with the kids at Rogers,” Hanson said. “But my youngest brother Zac is a freshman this year and I was out of the house by the time he and I could have had a deeper relationship, so I just decided I couldn’t pass up the chance to work with him.”
That makes the Hanson family business almost complete.
Craig Hanson and his wife Janeen share a passion for the sport of wrestling that is palpable – a passion they’ve both instilled in and shared with their three sons, Matt, Clete and Zac.
Now in his 19th season leading the Knights, Craig Hanson has turned East Valley into a wrestling power. He’s coached some 180 dual-meet victories and nine league titles, four of them coming in the powerful Greater Spokane League. A year ago the Knights were Class 2A district champions and placed eighth at the state tournament.
Janeen Hanson takes a backseat to none for her passion and devotion to the sport. She runs hospitality rooms at tournaments all over, from the annual Tri-State Tournament at North Idaho College to the annual Dream Duals tourney at East Valley.
“A couple weeks ago, while we were at a tournament in Sedro-Woolley, she ran the pairings for a tournament at North Central, and we didn’t have anyone AT that tournament,” Craig Hanson said with a laugh. “All of our kids have grown up around wrestling and wrestling tournaments.”
“If you want to find our family (this time of year),” Matt Hanson quipped, “you kind of have to go to a wrestling tournament. My mom and dad both have a deep passion for this sport. It manifests itself differently in each of them, but it’s every bit as deep.”
The missing Hanson from the East Valley wrestling room this season, middle son Clete was a surprise guest over the Christmas weekend. A year removed from a standout four-year career at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Clete Hanson is in his first season as an assistant wrestling coach at Simon Fraser.
“Clete got married last year and he was supposed to be spending Christmas with his in-laws,” Craig Hanson said. “But they weren’t able to make it out and, at the last minute, they took a look at the weather report and decided they would drive down to spend Christmas with us.”
“It’s the first time we’ve all been together for Christmas since Clete left for college,” Matt Hanson said. “It made mom very happy.”
That put Craig Hanson in the EV wrestling room with all three sons, and put a smile on his face that spills out into every word he says.
Despite last year’s success, East Valley wasn’t on too many radar sets before the season started.
“We’re a pretty young squad, but we have had two classes come in that have dovetailed nicely,” Craig Hanson said. “Last year’s freshman class was strong at different weight classes than this year’s class, and that has worked very well for us. We’ve got some weights where we’re deep. We’re still learning. We wrestled Colville and, in that match, we ended up losing every close match. We had a couple where we were up by something like seven points and ended up getting pinned. We lost that match.
“Then we wrestled Deer Park and it was just the opposite – we won every close match and ended up winning that match. I don’t think anyone would have thought this team could go out and beat Deer Park.”
The perennially powerful Stags are the favorite to win the state Class 2A title, and Colville and Cheney both are picked as challengers. Even rebuilding West Valley is picked ahead of the Knights – and all four teams currently are ranked among the top 20 teams by website, WashingtonWrestling Report.net. In fact, in the season-opening poll Deer Park, Colville and Cheney are ranked first, third and sixth. West Valley comes in at 18th.
“We were just talking about that the other day,” Matt Hanson said, laughing. “We’ll be there. That just goes to show you how powerful our district is
“I think we may have set our expectations a little low with this team and we’re having to go back and raise the bar a little right now.”
Once you get past the team rankings and look at the updated ranks in each weight class, the Knights show the surge.
For example, two Knights are picked to finish on the awards platform at this year’s state tournament at 106-pounds: Logan Sundheim (ranked sixth) and Zac Hanson (eighth), both freshmen.
“We’ve had both of them entered in the same tournament and I turned Zac over to Matt to work with during his matches,” Craig Hanson said. “It’s worked out great. I’ve been able to give all of my attention to (Logan) and let Matt work with his brother. It gets rid of any appearance of favoritism and it’s been good for Matt and Zac.”
“That’s been a great opportunity for me,” Matt Hanson agreed. “There are some things that Zac and I can talk about that would be more difficult for him to talk to Dad about. For one thing, I’ve been through the program, too, so I can talk to him from experience. Sometimes it can be difficult having a parent as your coach.”
For Craig Hanson, it’s been a rare privilege to watch his son work with the Knights.
“I stand back and let Matt work with the guys and I hear him telling them the exact same thing I told him when he was starting out here,” he said. “I can’t tell you how good that feels.”