White River High School girls wrestling has earned a reputation as a contender in the Tacoma Dome the past several seasons, notching five top-10 finishes as a team in the past seven seasons.
This year, the Hornets are aiming higher.
With wrestlers in nine of the 14 weight brackets when Mat Classic XXXI begins Friday morning in Tacoma, White River enters the tournament as the top-ranked girls team by Washington Wrestling Report.
Five Hornets’ wrestlers are ranked sixth or higher in their weight classes, and make up the bulk of a White River lineup the wrestlers have adopted a nickname after the famous New York Yankees lineup of the 1920s.
“We like to call it ‘Murderers’ Row’ when we do dual meets,” sophomore Claire Dicugno said. “We just expect to win (with) that part of the lineup. We usually expect pins throughout there, and it would just be a massacre from the start.
“The team title would make my year.”
Coach Jason Jackson says the Hornets are “perfectly spread out from 120 (pounds) to 145.” White River will be well represented in the expanded state tournament, which will now include 32 wrestlers in each bracket, after last weekend’s regionals were canceled because of bad weather.
Payton Stroud, a senior and two-time state placer who is the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 120 pounds, leads off White River’s dominant group.
And the Hornets are just as tough in the next five weight classes.
Dicugo, who placed fourth last season as a freshman, is ranked fourth at 125 pounds, and is followed by senior Rachel Poussier (third, 130), freshman Jalia Williams (fourth, 135), freshman Maria Hawthorne (11th, 140) and sophomore Alexandria Hernandez (sixth, 145).
“It’s pretty cool at duals to pin one right after another,” Stroud said. “Then, to go up to the podium having White River at the top every single time (has been) pretty cool.”
Sophomore J’Kira Wolbrecht (155), freshman Allaina Cox (190) and senior Tailyn Nelson (235) round out White River’s Mat Classic entrants.
White River has reached the podium at the state tournament just once, taking fourth as a team in 2012. Behind Stroud, the Hornets are aiming even higher this season.
“Payton is the front runner of the team (leader),” Jackson said. “She’s a senior, she’s very seasoned and she’s accomplished. ... Not even just in this area but in the nation.
“But, I do have other (wrestlers) that are very similar in size. Claire Dicugno is by all rights is an accomplished wrestler — recognized nationally as an accomplished wrestler.”
Both Stroud and Dicugo were listed in the latest set of FloWrestling national rankings, which were released Feb. 6. Stroud (fourth, 122 pounds) and Dicugno (14th, 127) are among 22 girls from Washington who are ranked nationally.
The talent doesn’t stop there.
“I have freshmen that are moving through now who are just unbelievable phenoms,” Jackson said. “The way they put the desire in to be the best is second to none. … It’s iron sharpening iron every time we go into one of our practices.”
Dicugno highlights the younger group of Hornets wrestlers — six of the nine state qualifiers are freshmen or sophomores — after her strong finish last season.
Though she and Stroud are the only wrestlers headed to Tacoma who have state tournament experience, the Hornets are well-positioned for a solid postseason run this weekend and in future years.
“(This year we) got a bunch of new girls — freshmen and sophomores — and they all have a lot of potential,” Stroud said. “They’re going to be really, really good.”
“I see the program going very far with the amount of talent that is coming in,” Possier said. “I think we have a lot good leaders in our program to help out the younger girls with learning the technique and with any questions they might have.”
The Hornets’ boys team — which is the defending Class 2A state champion — is ranked second in 2A entering Mat Classic, behind state favorite Toppenish, and will send 21 wrestlers to Tacoma.
A chance to top the podium for the first time for the girls team, and the possibility of a repeat title for the boys?
That’s the goal for the two programs heading into their toughest weekend.
“Our guys program is also in the conversation, so it would be super rad if we were able to win it and the guys were able to win it, too,” Dicugno said. “Just have White River dominating the wrestling divisions.”
The girls are ready to do there part.
“Winning the state title would set an example and a foundation of what White River is going to be after this year,” Stroud said.