High School Sports

Tahoma’s Kione Gill leaving a legacy as one of the best wrestlers the storied program has ever seen

Tahoma's wrestler, Kione Gill before the Who's No. 1 high school wrestling tournament held at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, December 27, 2017.
Tahoma's wrestler, Kione Gill before the Who's No. 1 high school wrestling tournament held at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, December 27, 2017. phaley@thenewstribune.com

For 12 years now, Tahoma High wrestler Kione Gill has been working to master his craft.

Last year, he won his first individual state championship, pinning Kennedy Catholic’s Bowen McConville in 1 minute, 37 seconds for the 4A 195-pound crown. In the process, he helped the Bears win their first team championship since 2012.

It was a night the senior will never forget. And he wants more.

“When I’m gone, I want to be remembered,” Gill said. “I want my name to be on that wall. I want to have every record (at Tahoma). I want to be undefeated. I want to be not taken down. I want to have a perfect season.”

That last goal is alive and well. After moving from 195 pounds to 220 pounds this season, Gill is 17-0. The move up in weight might have been challenge for some, but Gill said it’s not how much you weigh, it’s how hard you battle.

“It hasn’t been real difficult for him,” said Chris Feist, the Fife and Central Washington University graduate who is in his 15th year coaching Tahoma. “For some it would be, especially in these larger weight classes where you meet a lot of these bigger, stronger guys, but he’s already so naturally fast and strong that that wasn’t an issue. And he’s as technical, if not more technical, than anyone he wrestles, so it hasn’t been an issue for him.”

Since he started wrestling at 6 years old, Gill has put in the time and effort to get the most out of his abilities.

“He has incredible natural gifts, physical natural gifts …where his body is in relation to the mat and his opponent is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Feist said. “His explosive first step and his flexibility for a big man, is very uncommon at that level.

“He’s dedicated to his craft, and what I mean by that is he’s been training to compete at a high level since he was a little boy and has developed a series of techniques and moves that really work for him and his style and his body. He’s perfected them to the point that he’s real hard to beat.”

Losing is a rare occurrence. Gill wrestled for two years at Enumclaw, where he compiled a record of 54-7 and finished fourth in the state as a freshman and second as a sophomore, both years wrestling at 182 pounds.

Then he transferred to Tahoma. A turning point in his career came that season when he got a chance to face Ferndale’s Ben Broselle, who had beaten him for the 3A 182-pound state championship the previous season.

This time, Gill came out on top.

“I needed that match,” Gill said. “Ever since (losing to him), I was just really pissed at myself. I knew I could beat him, I just overthought it and overlooked him. You’re never supposed to overlook someone, and that’s a thing that I did. I just overlooked him and screwed myself over. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, so you just have to prepare for the next move you have – and I was, I was prepared.”

Gill ended the year with his first state title, finishing the season 32-1.

Kione Gill_2
Tahoma's Kione Gill pins Kennedy Catholic's Bowen McConville in the 4A 195 pound championship match at Mat Classic XXIX at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash., on Saturday, February 18, 2017. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

Gill said the move to Tahoma had to do with bettering himself in the classroom, as well as on the mat, and it’s a decision he doesn’t regret.

“What made me improve a bunch is coming to Tahoma,” Gill said. “That’s a decision I would never take back. I love these guys here. They’re like family.”

Gill has always been just as much about the team as he has been about any of his own personal accomplishments. Winning the team championship a year ago remains one of his fondest memories of his wrestling career.

Tahoma outscored second-place Curtis 158-145 to win the title.

“It was an awesome experience,” Feist said. “We had a lot of hard-working boys that put a lot of time and effort in, not just to that season but the years leading up to it, and that was a group that really jelled together and had common vision and common purpose and we saw it materialize on a Saturday night in February. It was really special.”

Gill’s college plans remain up in the air. He would like to wrestle at a four-year university, but said he likely will attend community college first in an effort to get his grades up before transferring.

“I expect him to go to school and give his best effort,” Feist said. “We’ve got to find the right fit for him, though. As hard as a worker as he is on the mat, and he loves to train and compete, he hasn’t been in love with school. We know a lot of kids like that, and that’s OK. We each go our different paths and routes. His desired path is wrestling, and in order to do that he has to do well in the classroom, and that’s where he’s really going to have to push himself.”

The more immediate future involves qualifying for another trip to the state tournament and adding to his legacy of outstanding Tahoma wrestlers.

The school has had some really good ones. Ricky Christian won three state titles (1990, ’91, ’92), and so did Zhon Kurespediani (1996, ’97, ’98), Andrew Johnson (2005, ’06, ’07) and Nick Bayer (2008, ’09, ’10).

Kevin Kooyman, The News Tribune’ 2005-06 male athlete of the year, won a pair of state titles before going on to play defensive tackle at Washington State.

And there’s Jens “Little Evil” Pulver, who won a pair of state 135-pound titles in 1991 and 1992 before wrestling at Boise State and eventually becoming an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) superstar. He would become the first-ever UFC World Lightweight Champion and he defended his title twice.

But Gill has already made an impression.

“He’s the best big man, if not overall wrestler, we’ve ever had come through here in my 15 years, and I’ve had some real good ones,” Feist said.