With four district championships, four conference titles, four state runner-up finishes and four state championships, the Columbia wrestling team was one of the most decorated programs in the state coming into this season.
But there was one thing missing from its impressive resume, a 5A state championship.
However, the Wildcats addressed their lone shortcoming in a big way this season. Columbia ended rival, Post Falls’ reign of dominance in the 5A, beating the Trojans by 58.5 points at the 5A State Wrestling Championships to claim the first 5A state title in program history.
For this achievement, the Columbia wrestling team is the 2016-2017 Idaho Press Tribune’s Sports Stars Boys Winter Team of the Year.
“Three years ago, I knew we would have a chance if we could keep all these kids together,” Columbia coach Todd Cady said. “This was the year I had circled with this group and they lived up to that and then some. This group always had each other’s backs. They really wrestled hard for each other and wrestled for more than just themselves."
Before this year, since moving up the 5A level during the 2014-2015 season, the Wildcats hadn’t been able to replicate the success they at the 4A classification. Post Falls continually stood in their way, winning back-to-back state titles in 2015 and 2016.
Last season's state tournament was particularly rough for Columbia, as it lost to Post Falls by 82 points. The trend continued into this season with the Trojans holding a 3-2 advantage over the Wildcats heading into the state tournament, which included a nearly 60-point win over Columbia at its own tournament, Rollie Lane in January.
“We were constantly reminded that every senior class had won a state title at one point,” senior Brandon Kipper said. “We were on the verge of being the first-ever senior class to not win a state title. So going into state we had all the motivation we needed because we didn’t want to go down on the wrong side of history.”
At the state tournament, the Wildcats wouldn’t be denied a third time. Despite trailing Post Falls by as much as 30 points on the opening day of state, Columbia rallied to within two points at the end of day No. 1.
On the final day of competition, the Wildcats overtook the Trojans and kept adding to their lead. When freshman Angel Rios (120), sophomore Kekana Fouret (132), junior Kade Grigsby (138), junior Nate Clements (170) and senior Brandon Kipper (285) went 5-for-5 in their state championship matches, the question wasn’t if Columbia was going win the 5A state championship, it was by how much.
Josh Scott (98), Levi Cluff (113), Daniel Ivko (113), Dylan Morgan (126), Chris Velasco (138), Alex Martinez (152), Tanner Hughes (160), Michael Cox (182) and Skylar Hughes (195) all added additional state placing for Columbia. The Wildcats finished with 14 state placers in all for 276.5 total team points to finally get their first 5A state title and first state championship since 2013.
“It was pretty indescribable actually,” Morgan said. “I always tried to kind of imagine what it would be like, but when it actually happened, it shot it out of the water. To hold that banner and realize we did it was just an amazing feeling. The season was hard. It was a grind so to go out like that was pretty picture perfect.”