Rebuilt Totems on road to Mat Classic | Prep sports feature

Kyle Kasner (left) and Tomas Narvaja have helped coach Joel Reese turn around the Totems wrestling program.  - Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter
Kyle Kasner (left) and Tomas Narvaja have helped coach Joel Reese turn around the Totems wrestling program.
— image credit: Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter

Tomas Narvaja's introduction to the Sammamish wrestling program was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Insubordination from upperclassmen marred the season and left the Totems with only a handful of athletes at its conclusion. While conditioning and work ethic were often stressed, Narvaja and his teammates rarely reaped the rewards without a technique-focused approach from the coaching staff.

"We had too many seniors messing around and not showing our coaches that respect," Narvaja said. "But everyone who stayed was committed and worked hard."

Forged in the fires of that struggle, a new-look Sammamish program under second-year head coach Joel Reese will send six wrestlers to its 2A regional meet with two more earning alternate spots on the final stop before Mat Classic XXV in the Tacoma Dome.

Juan Quijada will lead that charge after winning the title at 113 pounds at the 2A sub-regional meet and the depth at the top of the bracket made the Totems' turnaround from recent years even more evident.

Rathtana Duong was the runner-up at 120 while Tomas Narvaja, Jake Johnson and Max Hummer brought home third place finishes. James Tate was fourth at 170 to earn a regional berth. Kyle Kasner made the field after a late scratch and Dawson Conway will be an alternate at this weekend's regional meet in Sedro-Wooley.

"We are actually competing," Hummer said. "Coach Reese and coach A.J. really kicked the program into gear and this year has been fine-tuning."

That was never more evident than during a week of the regular season that included wins over rival Interlake and crosstown Bellevue, which will send nine to its 3A regional meet in Kelso.

"My freshman year was a really rocky time," Kasner said. "Now, people are noticing what we're doing."

Reese and his athletes said those wins helped build the confidence that could carry this group further than any in recent program history.

"They enjoy the intensity we've brought to the program," Reese said. "It's a sign they have really bought in."

The new coaching staff has emphasized the importance of solid technique and in-match adjustments to harness the ability of a group that is dominated by upperclassmen looking to leave a benchmark for future classes to come through the program.

The moderate success last year led to increased offseason interest, which has given Sammamish six chances to earn a spot in Tacoma, a far cry from only a handful of seasons ago, when Narvaja was still in middle school and watched as only a single Totem made it to state.

"They have stuck around and it's great to have coaches that care about us," Narvaja said. "It's a different program."

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