Yelm boys wrestling ties for ninth place at Mat Classic XXXV

Coach Gaylord Strand named 3A Coach of the Year


In Yelm wrestling coach Gaylord Strand’s final Mat Classic appearance in his 50-year career, his team tied for ninth place with just five wrestlers appearing in the state tournament. He capped off his career by coaching a heavyweight to a state championship finish for the first time in Yelm High School history. 

Strand was also named the WIAA’s 3A Coach of the Year, which serves as a cherry on top to an already illustrious career. This was announced prior to the semifinal and championship matches beginning on Saturday, Feb. 17, in the Tacoma Dome. 

“That was an exciting moment. I’ve been the regional coach of the year many times, but I’ve never been voted in as WIAA’s Coach of the Year,” Strand said. “I guess if you put 50 years in, they figure you deserve it. That was a nice way to cap it off. But more importantly, it was fun to have a state champion.”

Before the Tornados secured their top-10 finish at Mat Classic XXXV, Strand said the team sat in 20th place after day one of the tournament on Friday, Feb. 16. Thanks to the WIAA’s 3A 285-pound state champion, Jonah Smith, Yelm secured its ninth-place finish, tying with Kent Meridian with 76.5 points.

“It was a very rewarding finish. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. We came back Saturday morning, and we were winning and winning and winning. That was pretty exciting,” Strand said. “I saw that we had a chance at a top-10 finish. If it hadn’t been for Jonah’s win, we would’ve ended up in 11th place. Jonah took us over the top.” 

Strand described Smith as mentally tough. He said Smith’s semifinals matchup against Lincoln’s Bradley Amsden displayed the sophomore’s mental fortitude. 

“Jonah will never quit, never give up,” Strand said. “He’s got some good wrestling skills on top of it, and of course he’s athletic. Last year, as a freshman, nobody expected him to take fourth at state. To come back and take first as a sophomore, he’s got a great future ahead of him.” 

Strand said he’s still processing the emotions of Smith winning his first-ever state championship during the coach’s final match at the helm. 

“It was a great way to cap off my career and this year’s wrestling. It was an outstanding finish,” Strand said. “When he came over and picked me up, carried me to the center of the mat and spun me around, I thought he was going to throw me. I was ready for it.” 

The coach said Smith brings a lot of leadership skills to the team, and his teammates look up to him. Smith is always the last person to leave the mat at practices, Strand said. 

“This year, we kind of expected him to do things, and he pulled through and did it. He’s got a lot of leadership skills left in him, and he’s still young, also,” Strand said. “As far as physical growth, he’s 50 pounds lighter than most of those guys out there. If he puts on a little more muscle, a little more meat, he’s going to be something to deal with.” 

Junior Lake Harris placed second  in the 3A 150-pound division, losing to Mead’s Jeroen Smith by a 4-1 decision. Strand said after Harris was initially taken down, the matchup was even for the remainder of the bout. 

“I was feeling sad for Lake. He worked so hard to take that first place this year but just came up a little bit short,” Strand said. “He’s got next year. He’ll come back and work on his craft. You come back as a senior and things happen. A lot of things change. Your devotion, not that he isn’t devoted, but your focus is so much greater. Your limitations with time, knowing this is your last chance, makes every practice, everything you do, more focused on becoming a champion.” 

Sophomore Wesley Thompson finished in fourth place in the 3A 126-pound division. He was pinned by Mead’s James Mason in the third-place matchup. Strand said the future is bright for the young wrestler. 

“Wesley wrestled really well. He upped his game this tournament. Last year, taking eighth place as a freshman, was very good. Some people wrestle for years and never place at state,” Strand said. “This year, he chopped it in half and placed fourth. He’s got a lot of wrestling left in him and is very talented.”

Yelm junior Ethan Owens (144) picked up one win in three matches at Mat Classic XXXV, while his teammate, Kaleb Holman (165) wrestled twice in the tournament. 

Next season, the Tornados will move to the 4A classification, joining the South Puget Sound League. Strand believes Yelm will hold its own when the reclassification occurs, but noted the pool of wrestlers at future Mat Classic tournaments will be much deeper. 

“We’ve been in the 4A before. We seemed to handle things pretty well with the program we have. We also see a lot of 4A schools throughout the year in some of the different tournaments we match up against,” Strand said. “We’ll do fine.”

Strand said he’ll continue to follow the program after his retirement, whether its by volunteering or helping out in “whatever capacity he’s needed.” 

“How you address 50 years of wrestling at Yelm, I don’t know. I’d like to give such a large thank you to the community, the wrestlers, families that have supported the kids, the youth wrestling coaches, middle school coaches, my coaching staff, administration,” Strand said. “Everybody has been so supportive of me and my program over these years. Everybody deserves credit.

“I couldn’t do it without them,” Strand added. “I’m still reflecting on my 50 years, and I haven’t reached that point yet. I have a banquet coming up soon, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say there.”