The Bonney Lake High wrestling team is on a mission this year to prove that the Panthers are not just the top wrestling program in the South Sound, but the best one in the state.
Turning wrestling programs into state powerhouses is coach Dan Pitsch’s passion. His first attempt was at Decatur High, but then three years ago, the opportunity at Bonney Lake presented itself.
“We wrestled Bonney Lake once, and I was impressed,” Pitsch recalled. “I was impressed with how tough the kids were. Never did I think then that I would actually be coaching Bonney Lake wrestling.”
But once the opportunity presented itself, Pitsch accepted the challenge and went to work right away.
I was impressed with how tough the kids were. Never did I think then that I would actually be coaching Bonney Lake wrestling.
Panther coach Dan Pitsch
Last year at Mat Classic XXVIII inside the Tacoma Dome, Bonney Lake’s third-place finish in Class 3A tied for the program’s highest team finish.
“We will have more guys going deeper into the winning bracket, and we will come away with the state title this year,” Brandon Kaylor stated with a confident smile. “We are going to make some noise this year. You’ll see.”
Kaylor, the No. 7-ranked wrestler in the nation, wants to experience the same thing his coach had back when he was wrestling for Spanaway Lake. Pitsch won both an individual (171 pounds) and state title (2001) with the Sentinels 15 years ago.
This year’s Bonney Lake team reminds him every bit of that team he wrestled for.
“We have a lot of depth,” Pitsch said. “It’s been very competitive in the weight room and in the gym all off season long. And it starts with those two guys (Kaylor and Brenden Chaowanibipool). They set the tone of what it means to be a Bonney Lake wrestler.”
Setting the tone
When you have All-Americans on your roster, it’s easy to point to them and try to convince the team of what it takes to succeed on the mat.
But when there’s two of them on the same roster, there’s no selling point needed. The methodology has already been sold.
“We are trying to match their level,” said Evan Tracy of the Panthers’ All-Americans, Kaylor and Chaowanipibool. “Everyone really pushes everyone here. We all want to get our names up high on the (record) board.”
Since 2008, Bonney Lake has produced 10 first-place finishers (Kaylor is the lone two-time champion), six second-place finishers and five third-place finishers.
Everyone really pushes everyone here. We all want to get our names up high on the board.
Bonney Lake has the chance to increase those numbers this year as the Panthers have 10 returners who qualified for state last year, with six of them placing.
“We have a lot of talent that can help us go far,” Chaowanipibool said. “You have to be committed to be the best.”
Of the returning state placers, only Kaylor took home a state championship (106), his second title in as many years.
The other placers were Chaowanipibool in sixth (106), Mason Saben in fifth (126), Zach Koeller in third (152), Keegan Dorsey in fourth (170), Jason Day in eighth (182) and Dreakeanna Adair in sixth (190) for the girls.
Bonney Lake also added Davis Woo (106), who took third for Class 1A Sultan High.
“We want to be the best,” Koeller said. “That means getting the championship. Nothing else matters but that title for ourselves and the team.”
Rivalry growing within
All good teams know how to find motivation from each other.
But players on great teams don’t just motivate one another — they try to beat each other in every facet of the sport. Bonney Lake wrestling is no different.
“I’m mad as hell that he has that record,” said Kaylor of teammate Keegan Dorsey, who led the Panthers in match wins last season with 42, one shy of Addison Tracy’s school record (43, set in 2009). “I want that record, but I get how he did it.”
It’s hard to pick up the most wins when you’re always in the championship bracket, Kaylor added, but that doesn’t make Dorsey’s win total any less palpable.
“That’s one thing that major different from what it was like at Sultan,” Woo said. “We had good coaches and a good program, but here it’s different. It’s bigger than what I’m used too definitely, but its way more intense, too.”
They don’t go easy on me — and I wouldn’t want them too — because they have a goal in mind and I have a goal in mind. We all want to get to the top.
That can only help someone like him, Woo added, who wants to take that next step in their career.
“I don’t have a lot of girls my size on the team, so I end up wrestling one of the guys,” Adair said. “They don’t go easy on me — and I wouldn’t want them to — because they have a goal in mind and I have a goal in mind. We all want to get to the top.”
And that’s what Bonney Lake wrestling is ultimately hoping for — to be at the top of the Washington state high school wrestling world.