WRESTLING: New look at Kent-Meridian

The pillars of the Kent-Meridian High wrestling program graduated last spring. Jesus Valdez, Nick Lemmon, Andrew Smith and Thomas Reinhart — four of the South Puget Sound League North Division’s top wrestlers last season — have moved on. “You have four outstanding kids. They were so exceptional, natural leaders,” said Kent-Meridian coach Todd Owens.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, December 15, 2010 5:40pm
  • NewsSports

The pillars of the Kent-Meridian High wrestling program graduated last spring.

Jesus Valdez, Nick Lemmon, Andrew Smith and Thomas Reinhart — four of the South Puget Sound League North Division’s top wrestlers last season — have moved on.

“You have four outstanding kids. They were so exceptional, natural leaders,” said Kent-Meridian coach Todd Owens.

Yet, the Royals have reason to be optimistic. Today, as the wrestling season begins to unfold, Owens will be looking to some fresh faces to take over where the Royals left off a year ago. Owens is fully aware of how tough it will be to replace the elite grapplers who left, but also realizes that there’s still strong talent on the K-M mat.

That talent begins with standouts Luke Barzie (171 pounds) and Jean-Claude Atkinson (285). Both wrestlers emerged last season, particularly during the league and regional tournaments. Barzie, a senior, took second at the league tournament last winter and third at regionals. He finished with a 30-10 overall record. Atkinson, who posted a 32-11 mark last season, placed third at both the league and regional tournament.

Now, it’s time for the two to step up even further.

“They’re going to have good years,” Owens said. “They’re very key (for our success).”

Indeed. Because while the numbers remain low at Kent-Meridian, which received a turnout in the low 30s, there’s decent talent to help the Royals to continue to build. And that building process begins with Barzie, a strong and wiry 171 pounder, and Atkinson, who for now will be competing at 285 pounds, up from 215 last year.

“(Atkinson) could get down to 215 if he’s really committed,” said Owens, noting that Atkinson entered the week weighing in at 242.

Despite the jump in weight, Atkinson already has enjoyed considerable success in the sport’s largest weight class. Two weeks ago, during the Chief Sealth Invitational, Atkinson overpowered his opponents culminating in a 19-5 major decision win over Conor Leeds of Roosevelt for the title. Atkinson’s success continued last weekend at the Decatur Invitational, where he outlasted Nathan Meeks of Kentlake for the championship, 3-2.

“He looked pretty solid at the Decatur tournament,” Owens noted.

And while the numbers at K-M are small, there’s more talent — and young talent at that — behind Atkinson and Barzie. Of note is the return of sophomore Thomas Kemp (152/160), who just missed qualifying for the regional tournament last year and finished with a 25-15 overall record. In addition, sophomore Joshua Smith, whose older brothers Chris, Aaron and Andrew all were state-caliber wrestlers for K-M, also has returned. In limited action last year, Smith compiled a 15-10 record, which included a fifth-place finish at the league tournament.

“He has a good chance at making it to state this year,” Owens said.

Meanwhile, John Nguyen (140), who took last season off from wrestling, has returned and hardly showed any rust at the Chief Sealth Invitational, bringing home a solid third-place finish.

And while the numbers are low for the boys at K-M, the Royals do return more female wrestlers than any team in the North Division. That group is led by two-time state qualifier Elizabeth Stone (112) and Jacklyn Nagy (171). Adding to the depth for the girls will be Maggie Hoyman (125), Heaven Hamilton (171) and Izzy Kasabiti (171).

“They’re excited to go,” Owens said.


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