By Oliver Lazenby
Borderites wrestling placed second at the Mariner Holiday Tournament in Everett on December 3, despite only filling 10 of 14 weight classes.
That’s a strong start considering an all-new coaching staff headed by Colt Warren is guiding the team.
Warren, 30, graduated from Mount Baker High School, and is familiar with the wrestling legacy of Craig Foster, who he replaces as head coach. Foster coached in Blaine for 23 years and led the team to three top five finishes in the state.
Though Foster is still helping with the program, Warren said it’s not easy to fill his role. Foster received Coach of the Year honors in 2014 and was inducted to the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014.
“It’s hard considering that I’m stepping in for the legend that is Craig Foster,” Warren said. “But the team is starting to come together. We’re starting to find our identity, both as a team and a coaching staff.”
A team identity and “brotherhood” (though there are five girls on the 35-member wrestling squad) is important to cultivate, Warren said. It’s the extra factor, beyond skill and strength, which helps individuals succeed on the mat.
Warren knows because he’s lived it. He won a state championship his senior year at Mount Baker, and has seen a sense of camaraderie tip the scales for successful wrestling squads.
“You know your team mates are relying on you. You’re doing it for more than yourself,” Warren said. “With wrestling, it’s really 80 percent mental toughness and your teammates really help with that. With a close team and that brotherhood, it’s amazing how far you can go.”
After graduating from Mount Baker, Warren volunteered for a year as assistant coach at the school, and then went on to wrestle in college at Southwest Oregon Community College.
He moved back to Bellingham when he was 22 and worked in a cubicle for three years as an insurance claims analyst for a dental office until he realized he could no longer stand being in a cubicle.
Warren went back to school and graduated from Western Washington University with a master’s degree in teaching last June. He’ll start teaching social studies at Blaine High School later this year. For now, he’s substitute teaching in the district.
Aside from working on skills, Warren is focusing on building team camaraderie and managing the squad’s expectations under a new coach.
“It is difficult because they’re used to Craig Foster and I’m different. But once competition starts it’s amazing how things coalesce and come together, just because we all have the same goals.”
Caleb Frey, 2016 graduate and state finalist, is volunteering as assistant coach with the team, giving the wrestlers a link to the coaching staff, Warren said.
Blaine school district athletic director Wayne Vezzetti said he doesn’t expect Warren to have trouble leading the team.
“You can tell he’s going to form a great connection with the kids,” Vezzetti said. “I was very impressed in the interview. He’s very knowledgeable and Foster gave him a thumbs up.”
Strong returning wrestlers
Warren hopes to continue the Borderites wrestling legacy. Blaine wrestlers have placed near the top at 2A state championship the last two years, and Blaine won the 1A state championship in 2014.
The team will miss Caleb and Anthony Frey, state finalists who graduated last year. But current captains Colton Economy, Riley Fritsch, Saul Magallon and Derreck Camba all went to state last year.
“Leadership is a huge part of wrestling and I have great leaders on this squad,” Warren said. “It’s really great to see how much they’ve progressed and how much they’re helping their teammates progress.”
The team has a couple of other 2016 state participants or alternates and several athletes who were on the cusp of going to state last year and will break through this year, Warren said.
“We’re more than capable of being top three,” he said.