Under Phil McLean’s tutelage over the past 22 years, the Mead wrestling program has become the epitome of excellence not just in the area, but across the state.
But despite building a model program in the community and at the school, and getting close on too many occasions to count, the Panthers hadn’t been able to claim the final victory of the season for the veteran coach.
Until this year.
McLean and Mead wrestling, which put six wrestlers into the finals with 10 placers overall to capture the State 3A title, is The Spokesman-Review Big School Boys Coach/Team of the Year.
“We’ve been runner-up, third, fourth,” McLean said in February. “We’ve placed a lot, but that was the first one we won. So, it was really cool.
“The last time I had five in the finals, we broke the scoring record but took second.”
McLean previously won a state title with Gonzaga Prep in 1999.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but to have 10 placers and this senior group, it’s a really special group of kids,” McLean said. “I’m really happy for them.”
JT Connors (220 pounds) was the lone individual state champ in the group, beating Garfield’s Michael Montgomery with a pin in 61 seconds.
Mead entered the final round with the team title sewn up. Connors’ match was the last of the day for the team, so his teammates were all there for support.
“It was cool to have everyone there, everyone that I love came to support me,” Connors said. “Even though we did have six in the finals and I was the only one that won, it was still really awesome having everyone there.”
McLean didn’t mind the lack of drama.
“It was pretty cool because we had such a good Saturday afternoon and had clinched the title,” McLean said. “I learned something about my kids – they care more about the team than they do about themselves, because their intensity in their matches (after clinching) really went downhill.”
Connors was proud to help McLean get his first title with the program.
“It was pretty great,” he said. “This group of seniors we have, he’s been coaching literally since we were 7 or 8. It was awesome to get him that win.”
“We didn’t have a whole bunch of superstars, but we had a whole lot of really good solid kids that wrestle hard,” McLean said. “That was reflective of our team. You never get 10 placers, especially six in the finals. So, it was pretty cool.”
The other placers for Mead that day were James Mason (second, 106 pounds); Cole Turner (second, 132); Jake Mark (fourth, 138); Brenden Wright (eighth, 138); Garrett Casey (sixth, 145); Jonathan Mason (second, 152); Austin Justice (second, 160); Mason Knigge (sixth, 170) and Deklen Agloinga (second, 182).
Both Masons, Turner, Mark, Casey, and Connors were first-team all-league. Justice, Braxton Smith (126) and Chris Grosse (195) were second team.
Mead earned the Greater Spokane League title as well, besting University and Mt. Spokane in consecutive matches in come-from-behind fashion in January.
“Well, we’re entertaining,” McLean said after the Mt. Spokane match, won on the next-to-last match of the evening. “The spectators that came to watch wrestling were really entertained both nights.”
He spoke about having a full gym for the traditional rivalry showdown.
“It was a great competition,” he said. “We needed it. GSL wrestling needed it. The fans, our kids, we all needed it. It was high intensity, high electricity between Mead and Mt. Spokane like we used to have.”
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