It’s not hard to figure out why Bellevue High’s wrestling team has managed to make a comeback in the last two seasons. In fact, Bellevue wrestlers can pinpoint the exact day the program’s turnaround started.
“December 4th, 2007,” senior Davis Jones said. “Everything changed.”
That day was the day former coach Pat Pehl resigned. It was also the day that assistant Tom Ovens took over.
Gone were the expectations of mediocrity, of easy practices, of complacency that turned a once-strong program into one without focus.
“We weren’t motivated, we weren’t dedicated and we had no confidence in our program,” Jones said. “We were just going out there and we didn’t want to get killed. That’s actually the mindset we had.”
Enter expectations. Enter hard work. Enter determination.
Practices became intense. Accountability and discipline were enforced. Conditioning became key.
“He changed the whole focus of the program,” said Erik Ovens, a junior and son of the coach. “Our old coach didn’t care whether we won or lost, but my dad is all about helping people get better. He’s there to help you reach your goals.”
Things changed in a hurry, and it was evident to all involved with the program.
“My dad came in to the second or third practice after coach Ovens took over,” Jones said. “He looked at me and said ‘It looks like the party’s over.'”
When told of the observation, the coach just smiles.
“I would say that’s an accurate statement,” he said.
It’s easily evident that the players have bought into what the coach is selling. The Wolverines went 2-6 in dual meets last year and sent three wrestlers to regionals, including Aki Chinen, who went all the way to state. This year, Bellevue is 6-2 in dual meets with three remaining, placed second at the Lake Washington Invitational and won its first tournament in 10 years at the Shoreline Invitational on Jan. 10.
And for the first time ever, Bellevue held two-a-day practices during winter break, five hours a day, six days a week.
“It’s a 100 percent difference,” Jones said. “The biggest difference is that we have the confidence to know we can do it. We know we’re working harder than the other teams.”
The newfound confidence pairs well with a team full of talented wrestlers. Chinen, who wrestles in the 119-pound class, looks to become the first Bellevue grappler since the late 1970s to be a two-time state qualifier. Jones, who took fifth in regionals last year and became a state alternate, is 18-2 this season and has won his last seven matches by fall. 2008 KingCo placers Will Fields (171 pounds), Matt Casimes (103), Josh Speizle (119) and Matt Verstegen (130) all look to make an impact at regionals, while other grapplers like Erik Ovens, David Altomare, Jin Park and Alex Murphy look to break through.
“Everybody who wrestled last year has gotten better this year,” Tom Ovens said. “We’re taking a page from our football team when it comes to the work we’re putting in. That’s brought us some success. “
It’s also brought new goals. This season, Bellevue wrestlers say, the goal is to be on the 3A top-10 board at the state tournament, a giant board displaying the names of the top-10 schools.
It’s a goal that wouldn’t have been possible before Dec. 4, 2007. It’s a goal, they say, they will achieve.
“We know they don’t have a plate with Bellevue on it,” Jones said of the WIAA. “We want to make them handwrite ‘Bellevue’ and put it up there.”
Joel Willits can be reached at 425-453-5045 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan. 14 Double Duel
At Bellevue High School
Bellevue 63, Bothell 18
103 – Matt Casimes, Bell., pinned Chris Ungerecht, Both., 5:03; 112 – Sam Merritt, Bell., won by forfeit; 119 – Aki Chinen, Bell., pin Kyle McAuliffe, Both., 1:12; 125 – Peter Ovens, Bell., won by forfeit; 130 – Matt Verstegen, Bell., pinned Chris Zemp, Both., 3:23; 135 – Davis Jones pin Spencer Cannon, Both., 1:27; 140 – Brandon Reed, Both., pin Alex Murphy, Bell., 4:34; 145 – Ryan Loutsis, Both., pin Derrick Mychaylo, Bell., 1:24; 152 – Erik Ovens, Bell., pin Ben Arriola, Both., 5:01; 160 – Staton Rohde, Both., won by forfeit; 171 – Will Fields, Bell., dec. Riley Schaeffer, Both., 3-1; 189 – David Altomare, Bell., pin Steven Gmazel, Both., 1:49; 215 – James Trull, Bell., pin Andrew Pelton, Both., 3:18; 285 – Jin Park, Bell., won by forfeit.
Woodinville 42, Bellevue 27
103 – Joah Fennell, Wood., dec. Casimes, Bell., 7-2; 112 – Merritt, Bell., pin Colin Le, Wood., 5:12; 119 – Brady Olson, Wood., pin Chinen, Bell., 5:18; 125 – Zander Mitchell, Wood., pin Peter Ovens, Bell., 3:16; 130 – Kevin Komata, Wood., maj. dec. Verstegen, Bell., 13-1; 135 – Jones, Bell., pin David Peltier, Wood., 3:23; 140 – Murphy, Bell., pin Ryan Williams, Wood., 2:32; 145 – Conor Manion, Wood., pinned Mychaylo, Bell., 5:22; 152 – Dylan Granard, Wood., maj. dec. Erik Ovens, Bell., 15-3; 160 – Gus Degrandis, Wood., won by forfeit; 171 – Zach Lipana, Wood., dec. Fields, Bell., 7-4; 189 – Altomare, Bell., dec. Lyle Dallas, Wood., 10-9; 215 – Lee Rodewald, Wood., maj. dec. Trull, Bell., 11-2; 285 – Park, Bell., won by forfeit.