Wrestlers summon spirit of past warriors

Seniors Peter Mandell (189), left, and Nick McCallum (215) spar during practice Wednesday.  - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
Seniors Peter Mandell (189), left, and Nick McCallum (215) spar during practice Wednesday.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

A small plaque reading “Wrestling Room” is posted above a handle-less, Spartan-blue door on an otherwise featureless wall.

Inside, the atmosphere is overwhelmed by a cloud of oppressive humidity generated by 24 hard-working wrestlers.

Also striking are the photos on the wall – a collection that chronicles the Spartans program’s rich and outstanding history.

“Hunta Yo,” coach Steve Hohl has dubbed them, and these two words have become the team’s motto for the second straight year.

“The Native Americans had a spirit for everything,” said Hohl, holding one of the team shirts with the motto emblazoned across the front. “There’s the Great Spirit, the Water Spirit, the Salmon Spirit… ‘Hunta’ is the spirit of the hunter. ‘Yo’ means ‘precedes before you.’

“So this is the ‘Spirit of Past Warriors,’ and these are our warriors.”

Along with Hohl – now in his 21st season with the team – two other past warriors, assistant coaches Dan Pippinger and Britton Johnson, are looking forward to a season even more successful than last year’s.

Their first year in the Metro League, the Spartans handily outscored their league opponents, 412–128 to go 8-1 (11-5 overall) for the season.

Their sole loss came against O’Dea, 27-39, who defeated Bainbridge to claim the league title.

Since that loss came with the Spartans missing some of their key wrestlers, however, Johnson sees little trouble taking the Irish in Bainbridge’s home opener on Dec. 17.

“With all our captains gone, we put together a JV squad and lost by a match,” he said. “I think we’ll roll over them this year.”

Other key league matches are against Eastside Catholic (Jan. 7, away) and Nathan Hale (Jan. 30, home) – both matches the Spartans won last year by at least 28 points.

Without significant competition within the Metro League, Johnson and the rest of the Spartans have scheduled a number of challenging non-league matches and tournaments.

The upcoming White River Classic (Dec. 6-7) is widely considered the toughest competition out there – and the proof is in the results.

“Everybody that placed there last season went to State,” Johnson said.

With confident forecasts of sweeping the Metro tournament this year, the team’s next big hurdle will be regionals.

Done in tournament fashion, the regions alternate each year in two different tournament groupings statewide.

This year brings the Sea-Mont, Pierce County and Metro leagues together.

According to the Spartan coaches, it’ll be Pierce County – the most respected league in the state – that will test the team’s mettle, sending them to the mat against mentally and physically tough competitors from the rural eastern Washington schools.

As for state, Spartan hopefuls this year are seniors Nick McCallum in the 215 pound class, Alonso Valenzuela (112) and Peter Mandell (189) – all whom went to the big show last year – and three-time letterman Stevie Devine (103).

Also bringing considerable varsity experience are seniors Dan Bachen (160) and Justine Thorpe (152), and juniors John-Michael King (125), Chris Lyons (152) and Carl Webster (189).

Wrestlers to watch in the middle include sophomore Zach Smith (119), who led the Spartans last year in wins, falls, team points, takedowns and escapes.

Also impressive is 145-pound sophomore Billy Thomas.

“Billy came to us last year with only eight matches as an eighth-grader,” Hohl said. “Last year he had 40 and he just kept getting better and better. We’re pretty excited about him.”

After breaking his ankle last year in December, fellow sophomore Angelo Ritualo (140) – whose father happens to be one of those “Hunta Yo” – came back to make an impressive showing in the Metro championships, despite a still-weak ankle and little conditioning.

Adding depth to the squad is the return of Curtis Nelsen (135), who missed the second half of last year’s competition, as well as a dozen new freshmen recruits.

There’s still the matter of pounds to decide some of the other weight classes this early in the season, but the coaches are all confident that they’ve got the wrestlers for the job.

“My goal is to keep as many guys as we can on the team and have a successful post-season,” Johnson said. “I think we can get a lot of these guys to State, but it will be up to them to win.”

The Spartans open their 2002-2003 season next Thursday in Silverdale at the Olympic Double Dual.

Roger Miller contributed

to this report.

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