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Grapplers pound out solid startStrength in the middle weight classes continues to anchor the team.
"In a 24-hour period last week, the Spartan wrestlers nearly matched last season's total of three dual-meet victories. They bounced back from Thursday's narrow loss to traditional wrestling power Sequim, overcoming Cedarcrest and thumping North Mason in a double dual Friday. Against Sequim, the Spartans were equal after four matches - with Alonzo Valenzuela's pin at 112 pounds, and a forfeit at 119 - and won the next four to take a 32-12 lead. Though they dropped the next six to fall 39-32, that represented a huge improvement over last season, when they won just one match against the Wolves. And coach Steve Hohl said his own decisions - wrestling several competitors up a weight or two - might have been the deciding factor in the loss.The match against Cedarquist began in opposite fashion. After Steve Devine's opening pin, three pins and a forfeit put the Spartans in a 24-6 hole. Co-captain Brandon Nall halted the skid with a 6-3 decision at 140, and Mike Roe (145), Joey Mankes (152), and Jacob Hayashi (160) all recorded pins to put the Spartans ahead. After losing a decision at 171 to tie the match at 27-27 and knowing that the heavyweight division would be a forfeit loss, there was pressure on the next two wrestlers, Seth Paradox (189) and Nick McCallum (215). Both responded with pins, ensuring the 39-33 win.Against North Mason, a team that has traditionally troubled the Spartans, the team jumped off to a 24-0 lead and lost just two matches en route to a 51-24 thumping - North Mason's other points came via forfeit. Perhaps the highlight was Roe's solid 11-0 win over Rudy Watson, who kept him out of regionals and a possible state berth last year. Roe has yet to yield a single point in his three wins.Solid prospectsThese early matches offer hope for significant over last year's disappointing season, in which no Spartans went to the regional qualifying tournament or the state meet. Whether it's the buzz haircuts, having a settled home in the new gym, or the newly minted set of team rules and expectations that Hohl and his assistants - Britton Johnson, Danny Pippinger and Matt Pedersen - drew up, there's an almost palpable air of determination.Hohl cautions that the squad is not ready to take on the league powerhouses just yet, but feels that finishing in the upper half of the Olympic League is a realistic expectation.As has been the case in recent years, the team's primary strength is in the middle weights. Nall, Roe and Mankes provide senior leadership, while Hayashi is a junior who led the team in pins last year. Sophomore Chris McKay, who had a good freshman year wrestling at 130 last year, now weighs in the mid-140s and seems destined to wrestle primarily JV this season.The team is markedly stronger at the lighter weights this year. Devine and Valenzuela are improved as sophomores, and freshman John-Michael King will be a factor at 112. Senior Travis Dever at 119 and junior Derek Jones at 125 are both fixtures. Junior Elliot Benjamin and freshman Garrett Roe add depth. Freshman Hunter Merkle won his first match against Sequim at 130 and appears to have a bright future ahead. Nall eventually will wrestle at 135, Mankes at 140, Roe at 145, and Hayashi at 152. That will enable senior Pat Taylor to wrestle closer to his natural weight at 160. Freshmen Justin Thorpe and Adam Knight plus sophomores Dan Bachen and Tony Mirkovich will wrestle at the JV level in those middle weights.Junior Brian Cook, senior Dan Siegel, freshman John Jong, and perhaps even Paradox will wrestle at 171. Paradox, sophomore Peter Mandell - whom Hohl singled out for praise for his improvement over last year - junior Kekoa Comeaux and freshman Carl Webster will compete for the varsity slot 189.Wrestling near his natural weight at 215 rather than heavyweight, McCallum is also much improved over last year. He already has two pins, and was close to winning in the heavyweight division against Sequim To avoid constantly conceding six points in the heavyweights (275), Hohl is working with freshman Mario McKellup. Citing the Mahdavi factor, Hohl also hopes to add one or two of the huge linemen from the undefeated freshman football team. Mercer Island High School star Ben Mahdavi handed former Spartan Chris Shipp his only defeat in the state finals three years ago. This year he's spending New Year's Day at the Rose Bowlin Pasadena as a starting linebacker for the Huskies. Hohl sees a connection between the two events. "