All season long, there was little debate as to which wrestling team was the best in the state.
Last weekend, Toppenish High proved what everyone else seemed to know the entire time: The Wildcats are head and shoulders above everyone else. Not just in Class 2A. Every other team in every other classification.
Toppenish put up a record 310 team points at the Feb. 15-16 Mat Classic in Tacoma, winning its third Class 2A team title in the past four years.
Six Wildcats won individual titles, while two others placed second. The eight finalists were also a program best. Just as impressive, Top-Hi completely buried its two main rivals, Orting and White River (last year’s 2A champ).
“We had a bad taste in our mouths last year after finishing third, and we asked the kids what they were going to do about it in the offseason,” said 15-year head coach Johnny Cerna, whose teams also took home the title in 2016 and 2017.
“We challenged them to do whatever it took to separate themselves, so they all worked hard in the offseason and we took it to our two biggest rivals. It takes a lot of work to get to this point, and it’s very rewarding to see it pay off like that.”
The Wildcats were led by the school’s first three-time state champion, senior Andres Aguilera, who captured the 170-pound crown after winning a pair of titles at 160, including one last year.
Another repeat champion was junior Haiden Drury, who could be in a position to match Aguilera next year after winning this year’s 126-pound title.
Seniors Alex Rubio (145) and Carson Northwind (195) also won individual championships, along with junior Kyler Romero (132) and freshman Horacio Godinez (106). Romero also won last year at 126.
Joel Godina came up just short against Godinez in the finals, settling for second place. Senior Keyano Zamarripa also earned a runner-up finish at 160 pounds. Four others — Emrique Gonzales (fifth, 126), Gonzalo Aleman (sixth, 120), Terrell Underwood (seventh, 285) and Isaac John (eighth, 138) — earned a spot on the podium.
Brayan Cruz (113), Josiah Johnson (113), Juan Escamilla (170), Isias Ramirez (170) and Eduardo Rojas (182) all competed well and impressed coach Cerna.
“Every one of our guys — all 17 qualifiers — scored points for us, so that shows you how deep our team is,” Cerna said. “We know how good our No. 2 guys are, but other teams don’t usually get to see them in dual meets. They didn’t know what hit ‘em, and it was nice to see so many of our No. 2 guys compete as well as they did.”
Cerna said the ‘Cats were just a little deeper — a little more determined — than Orting or White River, which brought even more qualifiers with them to Tacoma.
“We took it to ‘em,” he said. “It means even more because we did it together. We want to succeed as individuals, but we also want to succeed as a team. That can be a hard concept to grasp, but our guys get it.”
Top-Hi may be firmly established at the top of the Washington wrestling hierarchy, but no one in the program believes their work is even close to being done.
Drury, Romero and Godinez will be returning next year, along with a slew of other state qualifiers. The town also has built a strong feeder program in the middle school, providing instant opportunities for freshmen like Godinez to shine on the varsity squad.
Cerna credited the work of Steve Romeo and Teo Rios at Toppenish Middle School, as well as his high school assistants Pepe Segovia, Austin Kintner, Manual Arambul and Cesar Godinez.
The teachers, administrators and parents also deserve a lot of credit for what the program has become, Cerna said.
“This whole town supports us,” he said. “We have a really strong community here that backs our program 100 percent. We have great coaches, great parents, great administrators. It’s just everyone. It takes a village to create this level of success.”
But ultimately, the Wildcats’ historic achievements this season boils down to the commitments each individual wrestler made to become a champion.
They push themselves, and each other, year round so they can compete at the highest level. Something must be working because the ‘Cats just keep getting better with age.
“We always preach that you should always act like a champion, on and off the mat,” Cerna said. “These kids show every day that they are not just competing for themselves, but also for their community, their parents and their school. They have a lot to be proud of right now.”