New practice room, but same goals for Islander wrestlers

Last season, Islander Kyle Shanafelt had a strong season, finishing with state experience. This year he and the team hope to make their way into a top five finish at state. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Last season, Islander Kyle Shanafelt had a strong season, finishing with state experience. This year he and the team hope to make their way into a top five finish at state.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Instead of heading from the locker room to the wrestling room this season, the MIHS wrestlers trek from the high school over to the new PEAK facility to their brand new practice facility. It has become the newest piece in the continued building of a legacy.

As the Islanders hit the mats this season, they have last year’s undefeated dual meets, KingCo and regional wins fresh in their minds, along with the 12th in state finish.

“They are really picking up where they left off,” said head coach Creighton Laughary.

With eight returning to the team who last competed at the Tacoma Dome’s Mat Classic, the Islanders know a little something about competition and the leadership it takes to get there. Laughary said leadership is the biggest strength of the team, with the upperclassmen stepping up and being role models for the younger guys.

“The leadership of the juniors and seniors is really positive,” he said. The team is also strong in its technique, Laughary said, which will help, especially with over half of the 14-man lineup having state and postseason experience.

“Our returners are almost too numerous to list,” said the coach. “We should have greater experience than ever before. At the upper end of the lineup, we have T.J. Blackburn at 215, Colton Knebel at 189, Phil Frazier at 171 and Blake Johnson at 160. They are all returning with state experience. (We’re) still sorting out weight classes in the middle of the lineup, but we have Kyle Shanafelt and Sal Giampapa returning with state experience, and Andrew Rawson, a senior, and a captain last year, all looking to get on the podium in Tacoma. In the lower weights, we have young, experienced wrestlers in sophomores Connor Gullstad, Luca Caruccio; both returning with state experience. Key newcomers, not new to us, but soon to be winning big matches, are Jake Pruchno, Tamir Amitai and Brian Rauzi.”

The team votes on captains, which hadn’t happened in the first week of the season, Laughary said, because while the coaches could pick, voting ensures that the rest of the team looks up to them.

Laughary said even though a lot of times wrestling can be an individual sport, the Islanders want to focus this season on the team aspect because it takes everyone posting their best finishes to earn points to win.

“They like the team aspect,” he said. “They want everyone to contribute.”

Ideally, the season includes KingCo and regional wins, but also breaking into the top five at state, which is really their focus this season.

Laughary said last season for a couple of matches the team was eighth at state, meaning Mercer Island was listed on the big scoreboard in the Tacoma Dome, which fired the team up to see it again this season.

“Things are looking really good in practice,” said Laughary. In order to continue the solid practices going into and through the season, Laughary said the Islanders will have to have total buy-in.

“First, it will require everyone buying in and participating fully,” he said of keys to a successful season. “Last year we were never able to put our ideal lineup on the mat because of injuries, so we need JV to keep working hard because they may need to step in. Things happen almost every match, and we’ll need them.”

As in so many other sports in the high school year, KingCo continues to offer some of the best competition in the state.

“The league is experiencing a surge up in strength and competition,” said the coach. He said Bellevue, one of the teams that the Islanders must pass on their way to the post season, shows up on the schedule several times, to Mercer Island’s advantage.

“Bellevue, they have to be respected,” he said. “We see them on the schedule four or five times with tournaments, so we’re excited about that. It allows up to gauge where we are.”

Lake Washington, a school which drops in to the 3A competition this season, is not a new team to the Islanders, but this season it’ll count for more than just a non-conference win.

“We’ve seen them every year for the past couple of year, but with wrestling it’s all about who turns out.”

The team will host their first match of the season next Thursday, Dec. 9 in the high school gym against Sammamish, before traveling to Interlake on Dec. 16. The KingCo meet against Bellevue will take place at MIHS on Jan. 11.

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