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Thursday, February 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM



Puyallup wrestler could become first girl state champ

Seattle Times staff reporter

PUYALLUP — Whitney Conder prefers to leave gender out of it.

The Puyallup High School senior would rather be thought of as simply a wrestler, not a female wrestler.

"That's the way I'd like it," Conder said.

Like it or not, the moniker goes with the territory. After all, Whitney Conder is a female wrestler, and a very fine one. She has a legitimate shot at becoming the first girl in Washington history to win a state high-school wrestling championship this weekend at Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome.

"I've thought about it," Conder acknowledged earlier this week. "You can't lie and say you haven't thought about it, because pretty much everyone out there wants to win a state title. It's pretty much everyone's goal in life in one sport or another to win a state title. You just have to go out there and try to make it happen. Pretty much anyone can do it."

State wrestling championships

What: Class 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A/B state championships.

When: Friday and Saturday.

Where: Tacoma Dome.

Friday schedule: First session, first-round matches 10 a.m.-1 p.m., girls invitational 1 p.m. Second session, consolation first-round matches and championship quarterfinals, 4-7 p.m., consolation second round 7-8:30 p.m., girls invitational 8 p.m.

Saturday schedule: Third session, championship semifinals and consolation quarterfinals 10-11:30 a.m., consolation semifinals and 7th-8th place matches 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., girls invitational 1 p.m. Fourth session, 5th-6th place matches, 3-3:30 p.m.; 3rd-4th place matches, 3:30-4 p.m.; championship matches, 5-9:30 p.m. (All times are approximate.)

Tickets: All day: adults $13, students/senior citizens $9. Two-day pass: adults $20, students/senior citizens $14.

Class 4A

Defending champion: University (Spokane).

Team favorites: Battle Ground, Lake Stevens, Auburn, Heritage.

Returning champions: Brian Owen, University, So., 112 (1st at 103 in 2005); Kelly Kubec, Lake Stevens, Jr., 130 (1st at 112 in 2005, 3rd at 103 in 2004); Lucas Chesher, Central Valley, Sr., 140 (1st at 125 in 2005, 8th at 119 in 2004); Kurt Swartz, Auburn, Sr., 171 (1st at 140 in 2005, 3rd at 140 in 2004); Andrew Johnson, Tahoma, Jr. (1st at 145 in 2005); Brent Chriswell, South Kitsap, Jr., 189 (1st at 171 in 2005, 2nd at 160 in 2004); Justin Boyce, Everett, Sr., 215 (1st at 189 in 2005); Kevin Kooyman, Tahoma, Sr., 215 (1st at 215 in 2005).

The scoop: University was ranked No. 1 in Class 4A when the first state coaches' poll came out last week, but the Titans got only five wrestlers through the Region IV tournament. If those wrestlers all place high enough, University could still have a shot. Heritage, which won the 2003 title and was second to Lake Stevens in 2004, has eight qualifiers, along with Puyallup and Emerald Ridge. Lake Stevens and Auburn each bring seven and could crown several individual champions. Battle Ground also has star power in its seven representatives, including four regional champions.

Class 3A

Defending champion: Sedro-Woolley.

Team favorites: Sedro-Woolley, Kelso, Bishop Blanchet, Mount Rainier, Bellingham, Peninsula.

Returning three-time champion: Brandon Sitch, Kelso, Sr., 160 (1st at 145 in 2005, 1st at 135 in 2004, 1st at 119 in 2003).

Returning two-time champion: Patrick O'Neil, Sedro-Woolley, Sr., 135 (1st at 135 in 2005, 1st at 130 in 2004).

Other returning champions: Derek Crouter, Sedro-Woolley, Jr., 112 (1st at 103 in 2005, 3rd at 103 in 2004); Michael Lomsdalen, Sedro-Woolley, Jr., 145 (1st at 140 in 2005, 2nd at 125 in 2004); Steve Sanchez, Sunnyside, 125, Sr. (1st at 119 in 2005); Jacob Tarvin, River Ridge, 130, Sr. (1st at 130 in 2005); Derek Altona, Ferndale, 275, Sr. (1st at 275 in 2004, didn't return to state in 2005).

The scoop: Nine-time champion Sedro-Woolley has the depth (12 state qualifiers) and the top-end talent to take its fifth team title in a row. A fifth consecutive title for Sedro-Woolley would give the Cubs the 3A record and separate them from Sunnyside and its four straight titles from 1977-80. Bellingham, Peninsula and Sea-King District champion Bishop Blanchet qualified 10 competitors each.

Sandy Ringer and Matt Massey

Anyone who has endured countless hours on the mat and in the weight room and endless miles of roadwork as Conder has.

"She's a very hard worker," Puyallup coach Brian Bartelson said. "She has really strived toward her goal. ... She's a great wrestler, gender aside."

Conder is making a habit of making history. Last year, she had the highest finish by a girl at state, placing sixth at 103 pounds at the Class 4A tournament. Last Saturday, she was the first to win a regional title, earning the Region II title. She pinned sophomore teammate David Morrow in the championship match to improve her season record to 30-5.

Morrow, her daily training partner, credits Conder, a team captain, for helping him qualify for state.

"She taught me everything," he said. "Everything I'm doing right now came from her training."

Just as Conder learned everything from her father and two older brothers. Dustin and Nate both wrestled at Rogers High School in Puyallup. Father Monte wrestled in high school and college and is a wrestling official who still coaches her.

"My brothers used to wrestle me all the time," said Whitney, who also has two older sisters, neither of whom wrestled. "They used to love to do moves on me, just to make me tougher. I loved it. I thought it was really fun."

She joined a wrestling club at age 8, and two years later her father started the Puyallup Falcons.

Sharon Conder, Whitney's mother, wasn't thrilled at first, but figured her daughter would lose interest.

"I said yes, thinking she wouldn't stick with it," Sharon said. "I should have known better. It hasn't been easy, because the boys get stronger when they get older, but she has been willing to put forth a lot of hard work. It's given her a lot of focus and goals in life."

Hard work isn't all Whitney Conder has had to endure. Boys sometimes refused to wrestle her, and her mother sometimes overheard stinging comments from the crowd.

She still remembers what a father told his son before a match with Whitney.

"I'll give you $5 if you beat her, $10 if you pin her and $20 if you make her cry," he said.

Sharon didn't say a word.

"Whitney went out there and pinned him and the boy started crying," Sharon Conder said. "I turned to the man and said, 'I'll take that $20, because my daughter just made your son cry.' "

These days, it surprises no one when Whitney wins. Until last year, no girl had won more than one match at state. The same day that Whitney finished sixth, freshman Megan Martin of Willapa Valley placed eighth at 103 at the Class 1A/B tournament. Martin did not qualify for this year's tournament, failing to make weight at 103 at regionals.

Sophomore Camie Yeik from Olympic of Silverdale is the only other female in this year's Mat Classic. She also wrestles at 103 in the 4A tournament, but is in the opposite half of the bracket from Conder. They are believed to be two of 17 girls nationally who qualified for boys state wrestling tournaments this year and hope to follow the lead of Alaska's Michaela Hutchison, who recently became the first girl to win a state title.

Conder, 17, has aspirations of wrestling in the Olympics and hopes to be invited to live at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., this summer.

Away from the mats, Conder is like many other teenage girls. After winning her regional title last Saturday, she and a date attended a high-school dance. She is active in the Mormon church, and wears a dress to Sunday services. Come Monday, however, she often dons a sweatshirt for school.

But wrestling leaves little time for a social life.

"It's my passion," Conder said of the sport. "It's the love of my life, other than God and my family."

Like every other wrestler at Mat Classic, she would love to win a state title. Conder is the top-seeded 4A wrestler at 103 pounds, adding further pressure. She's hopeful but realistic.

"I'm just hoping to place better than I did last year," she said. "Things don't always go your way. You train hard and work hard for it, and it can happen. Anything can happen."

Whitney Conder already has proven that.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company





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