By Mike Maltais
The two-time defending state champion Liberty Bell High School varsity wrestlers opened season practice Monday (Nov. 17) ranked No. 1 among Washington B league schools as the Mountain Lions set their sights on a three-peat at the Tacoma Dome next Feb. 21 – 22.
Commenting on the caliber of this year’s varsity roster, coach Paul Schmekel said “this may be my best team ever.”
That’s a telling statement from the usually conservative coach in light of last year’s Mountain Lions performance at state. By the end of the first day of state competition last February, Liberty Bell virtually had the title wrapped up when the Mountain Lions advanced five wrestlers into the final round. Four of those — Milo Holston (160 pounds), Emmett Fink (152), Meritt Fink (138) and Trent Skelton (120) — won individual championships in their weight classes. The fifth wrestler, Jacob McMillan, placed third at 145 pounds.
“We only lost one wrestler to graduation this year and we have all our other state veterans back,” Schmekel said.
While the loss of Holston is significant, Schmekel has his state medalists back along with veterans Danny Humiston, Ivan Johnson and Dreton Acord to lead a lineup of some 15 wrestlers who should spread across more weight classes. Last season the Mountain Lions had to forfeit a number of weight classes for lack of athletes to fill them.
“This season we hope to fill all but three weight brackets,” Schmekel predicted.
Liberty Bell picked up a few new competitors in the Central Washington B league north division this year with the addition of Okanogan, Tonasket and Brewster, and always-formidable Warden in the B league south, but Schmekel is confident his team is up to the larger challenge.
“Obviously, we already know what our goal is,” the coach said, but added that the focus has shifted to a greater team effort.
“This year we are going to try to wrestle more as a team and less as individuals to encourage more support for each other,” Schmekel said.
Another key factor in the coach’s optimistic outlook is the return of Jeff Stevie as assistant coach following a year’s absence.
“The kids love him,” Schmekel said of the LBHS wrestling alum.
New mats rolled out
Another plus for the Mountain Lion wrestlers this season is the arrival of new practice and competition mats that have replaced those that have been in use since the mid-1970s.
“We rolled it out today,” Schmekel said Monday (Nov. 17) of the new 30-by-30-foot practice mat. It will complement the 42-by-42-foot pad that will greet visiting teams and spectators when the Mountain Lions host their first home meet.
The new mats are the product of an impressive fundraising effort by the Winthrop Kiwanis and Liberty Bell Booster Club that together raised more than $13,000 towards the price tag for the equipment.
The Kiwanis included the new mats as part of its Fund-A-Dream drive during last spring’s Bite of the Methow where, following a presentation by coach Schmekel and acting activities director Hunter Maltais, donors contributed $11,775 toward the purchase.
The Liberty Bell Booster Club kicked in the remaining $2,000 along with another $6,000 for LBHS uniforms.