The van was packed up and the wrestlers were assembled for the trip to Tacoma when squeals from the stadium interrupted.
The makeshift parade of parents, siblings and kids from Ryley Absher's mom's preschool, Imagination Station, surprised the Mount Si wrestling delegation before they left for state.
Mount Si wrestling has consistently sent groups to the Mat Classic at Tacoma over the years. This season, the Wildcats sent one regional champ, Eli Clure, fellow senior Abscher, and a sophomore, Andrew Harris, with senior Tanner Stahl accompanying as an alternate.
"I don't know what to expect," said Harris, Mount Si's heavyweight, on his first trip to the dome. "Just try my hardest."
"It's definitely intimidating," said Clure, who went as an alternate last year. Absher, too, went as alternate twice.
"When you walk in, and see all the mats, all the wrestlers, you're, 'Whoa!'" Clure said. "It gets to you in the first 10 minutes. Then you get practicing, rolling around, it's another tournament."
Clure has seen plenty of those. He won the Best of the West tournament in Pasco, took second in two others in his class, and dominated at regionals.
Clure's approach is "to go out there, wrestle hard—wrestle my style. I can't be pushed around. Be aggressive." There's little time to think on the mat. "Most of the time, it's 'That's it, I have to hit it," he said.
Practicing hard, and with high morale, Clure finished fourth at state in his 120-pound weight class. He faced some tough early matches, beating David Ramos of Kennewick by pin, then facing Brahm Trujillo of Auburn. He battled his way through the bottom bracket to challenge Trujillo again.
Absher's goal was to get on the podium through focus and determination.
"Everything my coach pushed me toward, that's what I'm going to be pushing for," he said.
Wrestling at 145, Absher finished fifth, he beat Shadle Park wrestler Grover Escobar on points, then fell to Lakes wrestler Tino Nieves. He pinned Mount Spokane’s Christian Nibarger in 4:43 to take the final podium spot.
Clure and Absher have been wrestling since elementary school days. Both boys dyed their hair pink as a gesture to Eli's mom Lisa, a breast cancer survivor.
Harris won an 11-4 decision over Chief Sealth's Daron Camacho, then fell to Meadowdale's Ciaran Ball and lost a decision to Chance Stolz of Peninsula.
Mount Si finished 24th as a team of 53 teams.
This year's team will be remembered for their work ethic. Now in his fifth year helming the Mount Si program, Coach Schlotfeldt worked with Harris, Stahl, Absher and Clure as far back as middle school.
"I've got a close bond with them. They've done a lot of work," he said.
Absher took five of seven tournaments this season—"he's right up there, he's just in a stuffed region."
Senior Stahl's season was cut short this year by a hand injury. It was a tough break, especially since he had practiced hard in the off-season. Back in time for the postseason, his trip to state reflects his skill.
With two more years to go, Harris has the most promise.
State "is going to be a great experience for him," says Schlotfeldt.
Next year, in addition to Harris, look for Justin Edens, Gunnar Harrison amd Cameron McLain, all juniors who had good seasons in a stacked region, to lead the team.
"Just practice hard and work hard," Clure advises younger teammates, "and you'll get there. I was JV my freshman year."
The Wildcat boys (center left) are joined by well-wishers at Mount Si High School just before their departure, Thursday, Feb. 20.
Preschoolers and family members arrive to cheer on the Mount Si wrestling delegation.
Lisa Newell gives a big hug to her son, Eli Clure, prior to departure for the Mat Classic. At right is Tanner Stahl.