Brandon Kaylor has become the face of Bonney Lake High wrestling since winning a Class 3A state title last season at Mat Classic.
“He’s pretty much become the face of the program. When people talk about Bonney Lake, he’s probably the first person people ask about,” Bonney Lake coach Dan Pitsch said. “They ask, ‘How’s Brandon doing?’”
It’s a lot of pressure for the young sophomore coming into the new season. There’s a lot of expectations for him and his Panther teammates heading into the break as they prepare to start the second half of the season.
This point — and this pressure — is what Kaylor has been preparing for ever since the beginning.
“I’m pushing myself harder than I was last year. There is no day where I take it easy,” Kaylor said. “My teammates are on me just as much as I’m on them. Looking back at that match — I’ve watched that match five or six times, over and over again, just trying to correct those mistakes now. I’m going to my coaches asking where I can get better here and there.”
That match was then-freshman’s come-from-behind state title victory over then-No. 1 ranked Riley Gurr, of Kamiakin, as Kaylor entered the final minute trailing Gurr, 7-4. After a stall penalty gave the Panther a point back, Kaylor forced overtime with a two-point takedown as time was about to expire.
One takedown later, Kaylor was celebrating his first state title with a 9-7 decision.
“It came down to Brandon having more endurance than Riley had — Brandon was just the better conditioned wrestler,” Pitsch said.
Yet even after winning his first state championship, Kaylor wasn’t settled. There was this obsession to be great — something not even a championship could quench.
“I think I’m a more well-rounded wrestler today than I was back in February,” Kaylor said. “My standup game is a lot better. Being able to hit shots from both sides and not just one. And definitely thanks to Riley (Gurr), my leg defense is a lot better as I shouldn’t give up easy takedowns anymore.”
Thanks to the near loss, Kaylor was able to see his high school wrestling career in a new light.
Vision of championships
As Kaylor enters the season as 3A’s top-ranked wrestler at 106 pounds, it has become an expectation for him to maintain his success as he still has that long path to Washington state high school wrestling immortality.
“I just want to be the best, as cliché as it sounds. I don’t want to be second best, or just another wrestler, as I want to make my mark on the sport,” Kaylor emphasized.
Individual greatness rested on Kaylor’s mind last year during his freshman campaign. Coming into a budding Bonney Lake wrestling program and after already displaying strong wrestling acumen before his high school career, Kaylor set his goal: four state titles.
So far, Kaylor is off to another strong start to his season with a 13-0 record and three tournament titles, including the White River Classic, the Inland Empire Tournament and most recently the Oregon National Guard Tournament, which he won over the weekend.
These results — and Kaylor’ career mark of 59-4 with 20 pins — is as impressive as his desire to achieve even greater things beyond high school.
“I want to do what I know what I’m capable of — I want to go wrestle Division I (and) be on the U.S. Olympic team,” Kaylor said about where he believes he can take his career. “It’s just been a goal of mine since I was five or six.”
But something changed with the sophomore between his success at Mat Classic XXVII in February and now. It was a change in himself as Kaylor added to his goals: A championship celebration shared is better than one attained alone.
“The goal (is) to win state again,” Kaylor said. “For me, my main goal, to be honest, is to bring home a team (3A state) title, because I think we have a championship team.”
This new attitude isn’t really new. Just a change of focus as Kaylor now has more responsibilities. As a captain and arguably the team’s top performer, a lot rides on the sophomore’s shoulders. And despite all that pressure, Kaylor has embraced that role with pride.
“Brandon has come in and done a good job in being a leader and making the people around him better,” Pitsch said.
Pitsch won two individual state titles when he was at Spanaway Lake (2000-2001), and he won a team title with the Sentinels when they tied Capital for the state championship in 2001.
“I told him I won two state titles, but nothing meant more to me than the won I won with my team,” Pitsch added.
Whenever he has a chance, Kaylor is often lending his knowledge to his Panther teammates. For Pitsch, he describes it’s as if he has another coach out at practice — a leader who understands the craft with the deft touch to pass it on to whomever is willing to listen.
“What he’s done is make guys like Evan Tracy and some of the other guys and help them get better,” Pitsch said. “He’s made our team stronger as a whole … he’s just done a good job of taking the other guys and elevating their level.”
Panthers at the top
Entering this week, Bonney Lake is ranked as the top 3A team in state ahead of Mt. Spokane High and No. 3 Kamiakin.
The early rankings place Bonney Lake in favorable light, where it only means so much on paper.
“I don’t know how accurate that ranking is, but the kids and the parents (like to) check it out,” Pitsch joked.
But on a more serious note.
“(But) we have a lot of returning kids, and we have a lot of new comers that are pretty tough,” Pitsch said. “We’ve definitely maintained a lot from last year.”
Returners such as No. 1-ranked Avery Meyer (152), No. 3 Zach Koeller (160), No. 7 Evan Tracy (113), No. 6 Keegan Dorsey (182) as well as freshman Brendan Chaowanapibool (106) round out Bonney Lake’s talented pool of wrestlers.
Even if a lot goes into a team championship run like the one Kaylor hopes for, practices at Bonney Lake have taken on the attitude of the program’s top wrestlers in Kaylor and Avery Meyer (No. 1 at 152 pounds).
“There’s no easy practice — everybody’s on everybody,” Kaylor said of Bonney Lake’s practice environment. “It’s a good team and we’ve performed well at these tournaments we’ve gone to and at these duels (we’ve won).”
To get to the top, Pitsch knows his Bonney Lake team will need a lot of luck come February. But the more momentum and knowledge the Panthers can build from a now and until then can reduce the amount of luck needed in the end.
“A lot has to go your way at state as guys have to place. With more guys you place and the higher you place, the better your chances,” Pitsch said.