Hanford High School coach Dom Duncan is trying to build his girls wrestling team into a powerful program, and he’s got a good foundation with a former dancer and a swimmer.
Junior Taylor Robbins and freshman Taylor Wilson each won regional titles last weekend and will compete at the state tournament Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
“We are double trouble when we are in the finals together,” Robbins said.
While the Falcons have had a few girls walk through the doors of the wrestling room over the years, this season has been special.
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Wilson, who wrestles at 100 pounds, is 45-1 against female opponents this season and 2-2 against the guys. Robbins is 32-10, having spent most of the season at 125 before dropping to 120 for the postseason.
“One thing we have done for our girls is make sure they have 15 to 16 dates like our varsity and JV boys,” Duncan said. “If you expect the girls to be able to go to state and compete, they need mat time. There isn’t one of our girls who didn’t get at least 30 matches this season. We also try to get them in tough tournaments that you have to compete in. As nice as it is to be undefeated, if you aren’t battle tested when you get to state, those 3-2 matches get tight if you haven’t been in that situation before.”
Joining Robbins and Wilson in the room this year have been Hailey Say, Michaela Kane and Grace Nelson. And while they fell short of state, they are all underclassmen and will be back next season.
But this year belongs to Robbins and Wilson, who each have taken a different path to the wrestling room.
Flip turns to pin falls
Robbins started swimming when she was a little girl in Arkansas. She continued to swim when her family moved to the Tri-Cities, and she still does for Hanford High.
She was in middle school when her uncle was talking to her about her cousin, Todd Pink, who wrestled at Kennewick High School.
“My younger brothers were wrestling at the time and I started too,” Robbins said. “I like it. I liked where it was going. I was wrestling in the youth program when Dom and my mom started talking. When I got here, the room was welcoming.”
Last year as s sophomore, Robbins qualified for state at 125 pounds, but did not place.
She had a good sparring partner in senior Libby Graham, who placed eighth at 145 pounds.
“Last year I had Libby to wrestle with, and that was nice,” Robbins said. “Now, I wrestle with Hunter (Murphey) and Hailey (Say). Wrestling with Hunter and different coaches, you learn different stuff. Wrestling the guys is different than girls and makes you tougher. When you go back to wrestling girls, it’s easier.”
Robbins was second at 125 at regionals last year, but said she feels 120 is the right place for her.
“It wasn’t that hard to make 125, so it wasn’t that hard to go down to 120,” Robbins said. “I feel stronger at 120, and I’m a lot more confident.”
Which helps when all the sudden you are on one of the 24 mats on the floor of the Tacoma Dome, with thousands of eyes upon you.
“It’s way different when you are under the lights,” she said. “Taylor has been to a lot of big tournaments and I think she will do well under the lights.”
Robbins will open state Friday morning against Marina Montanez of Redmond. Her biggest rival, Payton Stroud of White River, is in the other half of the bracket.
“I don’t look at the brackets,” Robbins said. “Some are obsessed with it. I let Dom worry about that, and I show up and wrestle. I’m thankful Dom gets us a lot of matches before state, and we get to wrestle a lot of different girls. We will go to tournaments, and some girls will tell us they have only wrestled 10 matches, and we’ve had over 20.”
Tap dancing her way to takedowns
Just four years ago, Wilson was the girl with the perfect hair and makeup strutting her stuff on a dance floor in tap, ballet and jazz. Then she saw the inside of a wrestling room, and the rest is history.
“My dad (Jonathan) was really good at wrestling and I went with him when he signed my brother (Caden) up for wrestling,” Wilson said. “I saw a couple of other girls there and I talked to them. I begged my dad to sign me up too. I used to be a girlie girl and in dance. My mom (Audrey) thought wrestling was just a phase and I would go back to dancing. I never did.”
Wilson was in the sixth grade that year in Puyallup. Two years later at Carmichael Middle School in Richland, she was wrestling against the boys, and they didn’t stand a chance.
Last year at this time, she won the Washington State Wrestling Association Cadet Boys state title at 94 pounds.
“There are no regrets,” Wilson said. “Ever since I started wrestling, I dropped everything else and dedicated myself to it.”
And her mom is in full support.
“When she got her first wrestling jacket, I asked if I was supposed to bedazzle it like the others,” Audrey said. “She said if I did, she’d kill me. Her last year in dance, she went to state in tap. When she started wrestling, I think she was good as she was because of her dance background. She was so flexible.”
Wilson wrestled against the boys early on this year, but as the season wore on, Duncan did not want to see her get hurt against a bigger, stronger guy.
“I like to wrestle the boys,” Wilson said. “It’s just a good feeling to dominate guys. I am a girlie girl at school, but on the mat, I am a whole other person.”
Wilson’s one loss this season was to Melanie Flores of Moses Lake, who is in the opposite side of the bracket at state. As is Nizhoni Tallman of Granger, whom Wilson beat 6-1 for the regional title.
“I’ve beaten her (Flores) all the other times I have wrestled her,” said Wilson, who will open Friday morning against Allyson Estes of Eatonville.
While Robbins practices with Murphey, Wilson, who typically weighs 98-99 pounds, works with 106-pounder Austin Patton and 113-pounder Luke Foster.
“Me and Patton are back and forth, but I beat Foster,” Wilson said. “I’d like to work with Taylor, but she is 25 pounds heavier than me.”
A solid foundation
Duncan plays no favorites in his room. Everyone puts in the work, no exception.
“In practice, all the girls drill with the boys,” Duncan said. “The girls have a solid background in youth wrestling. For Wilson, having her dad as a coach when she started helped. Robbins, after her freshman year, went to Fargo, went to Pocatello and wrestled a bunch of of extra matches in the summer. We have a good foundation for the future.
“We have six girls, and between them have over 200 wins, and none will graduate this year. It’s a solid group to make a run (at state) next year.”
Wilson likes that the girls and guys practice together.
“We are like a family here. We are really close and no one gets left out,” Wilson said.