Kylee Heaston had already been to the state high school wrestling tournament before, competing in last year’s Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome. So when she repeated the feat this season it wasn’t all that surprising.
However, what made the experience extra special for the senior this time around was the color of singlet she was wearing when she punched her ticket back to the state tourney.
For the first three years of her high school wrestling career, Heaston, despite attending Capital High School, was a member of the Olympia program due to the fact the Cougars didn’t have girls wrestling.
That all changed this season with Capital finally offering the sport and Heaston has now forever etched her name in the record book as she became the first Capital wrestler ever to secure a trip to the girls state wrestling tournament after finishing fourth in the 115-pound division at the Region 2 tournament at Decatur High School in Federal Way on February 15.
“The season has worked out great so far,” Heaston said. “There’s been pros and cons (about making the move from Olympia to Capital). I like getting to know a new team. So, my family has just doubled. I learned a lot about technique from the Olympia coaches and now I’m learning technique from Capital. They’ve both been different. So, I feel like I’ve just doubled the techniques I’ve learned, which has made me a better wrestler.”
All that technique has results in plenty of success this year for Heaston, who will take a 30-14 record into the state tournament, which begins on Friday, February 21, at the Tacoma Dome.
“Kylee is very dedicated. She’s going to go out and do what she needs to do to improve,” Capital coach Jimmy Belleville said. “It’s been exciting to have her here and seeing her progress every day and getting better every day instead of just sitting back and dwelling on being over here instead of Olympia.”
Heaston will face Redmond senior Molly Williams, a three-state placer and the state’s top-ranked wrestler in the division, in the first round of the state tournament.
“Kylee’s record alone proves how much she’s improved since last year,” Belleville said. “Last year she was barely .500. She’s just changed and gone after it. For Kylee to have wrestled (at state) last year helps. She went out in two last year. Hopefully, this year is different. I think she can place at state.”
Heaston showed plenty of determination and gumption at regionals as she navigated her way to state through the consolation bracket.
After dropping her opening match at the regional tournament to Lincoln’s Faith Ross, Heaston won back-to-back loser-out matches. She beat Central Kitsap’s Ainsley Anderson (3:00) and Shelton’s Miracle Horne (4:19) both by pins before falling to White River’s Jenna Beddow in the placing round.
The trip to the state championships comes at the end of a year of transition for Heaston.
“It was a little bit awkward at first,” Heaston said about wrestling at her own school after competing at Olympia for three years. “It just felt like at the last minute we started a program here and I was not excited about it. I was looking forward to finishing up at Olympia and I was upset.”
According to Heaston, that anger didn’t last long as once she got on the mat, it was all about the sport she loved.
“I think I was mad maybe two or three days. Then I just wanted to wrestle,” Heaston said. “It means a lot to be over here and helping start a new program. I think it’s going to mean more over the next few years as the program continues to grow. I definitely plan on dropping by after I graduate.”
While this marks Heaston’s senior year in the Capital program, the Cougars will return four wrestlers next season, including junior Claire Owens who advanced to the regional tournament this season, with hopes of seeing those numbers increase.
“We’re just slowing starting to build it up,” Belleville said. “The goal next year is to get 10 to 15 girls out and build it to a full team. We really believe it has the potential to grow as a sport here.”
Heaston will be one of eight local girls competing at the state high school wrestling tournament.
North Thurston advanced a pair of wrestlers to the state tournament in Dolly Manlapaz and Payton Irish. Manlapaz (30-5) won the Region 2 championship in the 110-pound weight classification by pinning Klahowya’s Mya Young in the finals (1:52), while Payton finished third at 190.
Yelm had three wrestlers advance out of Region 2 with freshman Camryn Erickson placing third at 145 and sophomore Jordyn Rabalais (135) and Dasha Burnett (140) both taking home fourth-place finishes. Olympia and Tenino will both have one participate at the state tournament. The Bears got a second place out of senior Erica Grant (35-4) at the Region 3 tournament, while Tenino senior Christin Jamiah (20-6) won the 115-pound title with a 7-4 victory over Nha Tang of Curtis.