Eastlake’s wrestling team has been on a winning streak.
The Wolves have won two tournaments and were crowned the WIAA’s Les Schwab Team of the Month for December. Of the five schools participating in the Tony Clarke Invitational in Bonney Lake, Eastlake scored the most points and finished first place. At the Lynnwood Classic, they did the same, beating nine other opponents by winning the most points of all the teams.
Eastlake’s success this season has been due in large part to Coach Seth Miller, who took the reins four years ago and began rebuilding the team.
When Miller started at Eastlake, the team had not won a tournament since 2014. With wrestling fully back this year after being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller focused on recruiting talent. The number of people in the program has more than doubled, with over 40 wrestlers compared to last season’s 18.
Having more people allows teams to build up more points at tournaments, since they do not have to forfeit weight classes. In addition, Eastlake has six female wrestlers this year — which has not happened for five years.
Miller has done much of the advertising and recruiting at Eastlake High School himself. He said he wanted to show that wrestling is not as much an individual sport as one might think, but that it is very much a team sport. Wrestlers compete individually, but the points from each win add up to team points, ultimately deciding who wins the tournament.
“This is a great sport for girls as well as boys,” Miller said.
Captains Kai Baker, Raghav Rana, Daniel Barton, Dain Miller, and Kade Haselman led the team to the two tournament victories this year. They also played a big role in bringing the wrestling program back to life, providing encouragement to new wrestlers and scoring many points for the team themselves.
“We set an example for the rest of the team,” Barton, a senior, said.
One of the secrets for the turnaround is that Coach Miller and the team captains have implemented a culture of high expectations during training. It is the job of the captains to help new wrestlers and encourage everyone at the tournaments.
“We will do our best to welcome, teach you, have a good time… you’ve just got to put in your work, and then everything else will come with it,” Haselman, a senior, said. “If you don’t put in the work, you are the one who truly knows.”
Many students who join the team use it as a personal challenge to test their own grit.
Wrestling teaches discipline and mental toughness, and “after you wrestle, everything else comes easy,” Rana, a senior, said.
Coach Miller also ingrained in his wrestlers the concept that anyone can succeed at this sport, no matter how long they have trained.
“You might have somebody who has been wrestling their entire life, and we could have a brand new freshman. We could beat them. Anybody can win in a match,” Miller said. “You really get to see what you’re made of.”
Of course, having a lot of experience does help if you are the coach. Miller grew up in Pennsylvania, where he has participated in combat sports since age 4. He started wrestling in middle school, and eventually competed with the U.S. Men’s national wrestling team.
Eastlake placed third in KingCo this season, with 14 wrestlers, including 2 girls, headed to regionals on Feb. 11. You can learn more about the Eastlake wrestling program at eastlakewolveswrestling.com.