Nooksack Valley girls' wrestler Kylee Dekoekkoek doesn't take her wrestling career for granted.
She learned last year that a quick freak accident is all it takes to end a season.
Dekoekkoek was moments away from solidifying her spot as a state wrestling alternate at last year's Mat Classic. She was beating Mount Baker's Makenzie Gates during the girls' Region One Tournament in the third period when it happened.
"I tried to stand up, and I couldn't move it," Dekoekkoek said in a phone interview.
She couldn't pinpoint how it happened, but Dekoekkoek broke her left collarbone seconds away from capturing a trip to the Tacoma Dome.
Her wrestling season immediately ended. She wasn't able to play softball either.
"I feel like that kind of opened my eyes," Dekoekkoek said. "Any moment it can be over. That took a year away from me, and I couldn't finish the season because of that. I had a lot of time off to think about how fast it can be over and how hard I need to work to reach my goals."
Nooksack Valley's girls' assistant wrestling coach Michelle Dekoekkoek, who also is Kylee's mom, said hard work has always been a staple of Kylee's athletic career.
It's a large reason the Pioneers junior nearly made state during her first year wrestling last winter. It's an even bigger reason Kylee's a favorite to vie for a state medal at this year's Mat Classic XXV on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 15-16, at the Tacoma Dome.
"She was very disappointed, because she was thinking she would go to state as a first-year wrestler," Michelle said in a phone interview. "I think it has motivated her a lot. She knows you can get through anything if you just dig really deep. It helped her that she is a mature person."
Though Kylee said her collarbone still bothers her, especially in cold weather, she said it doesn't impede her wrestling abilities too much.
She's rebounded from her injury in a huge way.
Kylee has compiled a 30-6 record and won sub regional and regional titles, earning her a No. 1 seed at the state tournament.
"I'm pretty confident with the first seed, but I know I'll have to be ready," Kylee said.
The 145-pound wrestler has made tremendous strides in the sport with only two years of experience. In fact, Kylee was watching wrestling before her sophomore year, not grappling herself.
She got into the sport because she was dating a wrestler on the boys' team. Kylee attended a number of tournaments and began gravitating to wrestling. When the boy's sister, who used to wrestle, suggested Kylee try it, she did and instantly got hooked.
The Nooksack Valley girls' program only had five true wrestlers last year. Chloe Gardner, who also wrestled for the first time a year ago, placed fourth at state. Together, Gardner and Kylee have helped build the program through the success they've had on the mat and the way they've spread the word off it.
"I feel like both of us are naturally aggressive," Kylee said of Gardner and herself. "We both play several sports. That helps out a lot, and we both work really hard."
Michelle said the Pioneers have 14 consistent team members this year, and increased success has come with increased numbers. Unable to field a full team last year, Nooksack Valley placed second at sub regionals and regionals this year. Due to Dekoekkoek's injury, Gardner was the only Pioneer girl to make state last year. Alex Parson (118 pounds), Alberta Garcia (124) and Amber Cramsey-Behnke (235) join Gardner and Kylee at this year's Mat Classic.
"It's really exciting to see all the progress everyone has made this year," Kylee said. "Alex and Alberta, they both have gotten so much better since last year. I'm so happy for them."
Michelle, like Kylee, joined Nooksack Valley's program last year. She said Kylee and she have spent hours promoting the girls' team at the high school and Nooksack Valley middle school, where Michelle works.
"Kylee and I will go talk to a lot of people," Michelle said. "I work at the middle school and talk to kids all the time. We go there and promote it. (Kylee) was really determined and wanted a bigger team this year and would walk the halls and talk to girls, so I would say (Gardner and Kylee) have really helped promote it."
Increased state success may continue driving more girls to the program next year, and Kylee appears poised to make the most of her first trip to the Mat Classic.
"I feel like I need to stay focused and keep reminding myself what I have done this year and how far I've come," Kylee said. "That will give me the confidence to know I can do it. It's hard to do, but I have to remind myself it's just another tournament and calm myself down."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
MAT CLASSIC XXV
First session: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15
Second session: 4-9:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15
Third session: 10 a.m.-2:15 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 16
Championship matches: 5:15 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 16
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.