Before stepping onto the wrestling mat, Fife High School senior Monike Sarte glances down at a small button pinned to his singlet near his hip.
A picture of a smiling Clinton Sarte, Monike’s older brother, is emblazoned on the button, and a quick look sends a shot of adrenaline through the heavyweight wrestler’s body as he prepares to go to battle.
Eighteen-year-old Clinton Sarte died this summer after a battle with stomach cancer, and Monike dedicates this season to honoring his brother’s life.
“I know he’s spiritually there, but it just makes me feel like he’s there physically and he’s watching,” Monike said. “It brings a certain type of intensity to me when I’m getting ready for a match.”
Nine months ago, as Clinton was undergoing treatment for the disease, and was being moved back and forth from home to the hospital, Monike Failauga
(he recently changed his surname to Sarte as a tribute to his brother and stepfather) was wrestling in the postseason.
It was a trying and emotional time for Monike, who often spent school nights at the hospital, sitting bedside next to his brother.
But Monike endured all of it, advancing to the state tournament at Mat Classic, winning his first three matches at 285 pounds by pin and wrapping up the Class 2A championship with a 3-2 decision over Othello’s Bubba Ruiz in the finals.
“My brother was a real strong kid,” said Monike, who wrestled with his brother on the Fife team his sophomore year. “He didn’t care about himself. He was more about asking about us how we’re doing … telling us he’s fine at all times. In his last few days, he was always asking how I was doing.
“I never really got to ask him how he was doing.”
After Clinton died, almost the entire Fife wrestling team came to his memorial service.
“(The support) really showed that we’re more than just a team; we’re a family,” Monike said.
Wrestling with a higher purpose this season, Monike is 16-0 and off to a stellar start.
Ranked No. 1 in the state in his weight class, the senior won the 285-pound title at the SunDome Mat Classic in Yakima last weekend, defeating Toppenish’s Robert Luna (ranked No. 3) and West Valley Yakima’s Ricky Miller (No. 4) on his way to the title.
“He’s got a different kind of goal other than just winning matches and state titles,” Fife coach Brandon Howard said.
That includes leaving an indelible mark on the Fife wrestling program by mentoring younger wrestlers and giving as much of himself to others as he can – a true reflection of how his brother lived his life.
“He has conversations with them about how they need to change their attitude, what they need to do differently to be a champion,” Howard said.
The intense workouts and grueling matches this season won’t be anything like what the defending 2A state champ faced in his personal life in the past year.
Monike, who holds an 84-8 career record at Fife, is determined to work hard and apply himself every day.
“I don’t think of myself as (having reached) the top of the mountain,” he said. “I think of myself as (being) back at the bottom and climbing back up … a new goal to reach.”
From top to bottom, the gap in SPSL 4A is shrinking but Tahoma High School is still the team to beat at all levels. Winner of the Class 4A team title in 2011 and 2012, and last year’s state runner-up to Lake Stevens, coach Chris Feist’s group has six returning state participants – including senior Cruz Velasquez, a state-title contender at 126 pounds – and promising ninth grader Nick Whitehead (120).
SPSL North – Tahoma. SPSL South – Beamer. Narrows 4A – South Kitsap. SPSL 3A – Decatur. Narrows 3A – Lincoln. SPSL 2A – Fife. Evergreen 2A – W.F. West. Nisqually 1A – Vashon Island. Girls - Puyallup.
WRESTLER TO WATCH
Orting junior Fred Green is already a two-time state Class 1A champion, and is halfway to the elite “four-timer” club. Both technically superior and an aggressive attacker, Green reeled in the Tri-State title at 126 pounds last weekend with a 13-5 win over Idaho’s Drake Foster in the finals.
BEST OF REST
4A – Darren Harris, Yelm, jr. (120); Cruz Velasquez, Tahoma, sr. (126/132); Corde Ferreira, Graham-Kapowsin, jr. (138); Mitchell Owens, Beamer, so. (170); Matt Voss, Puyallup, sr. (220); Trent Nivala, Puyallup, sr. (285).
3A – Andrew Ramirez, Lakes, jr. (126); Leviticus Arizpe, Decatur, so. (132); Colton Tracy, Bonney Lake, sr. (132); Isaiah Diggs, Decatur, jr. (138); Jeremy Sabin, Bonney Lake, sr. (182); Jake Grantham, North Thurston, sr. (220).
2A – Glenn Robertson, Fife, sr. (132); Trevor Kurtz, White River, sr. (145); Mike Moniz, Orting, sr. (152); Elijah Camacho, River Ridge, sr. (160); Jed Schliesman, Sumner, sr. (170); Monike Sarte, Fife, sr. (285).
1A – Chase Wickman, Vashon, so. (106); Josh Crager, Cascade Christian, sr. (132); Dylan Mann, Eatonville, sr. (170); Shane Armstrong, Vashon, sr. (182); Preston Morris, Vashon, sr. (195).
Girls – Arian Carpio, Beamer, jr. (112); Jordan Bartelson, Puyallup, so. (118); Megan Johnson, Tumwater, sr. (124); Vanessa Dixon, Beamer, jr. (145); Kiaya Van Scoyoc, Lakes, sr. (155); Ryan Gibbons, Centralia, jr. (190); KC Moulden, Enumclaw, jr. (235).email@example.com