Golden Eagles coach Caleb Schlack described the journey his 69 wrestlers have made this season as having "been to hell and back."
Ferndale prides itself in being one of the most physically fit teams in the state. That can be witnessed during what Schlack calls his black flag practices - pure conditioning days intended to push wrestlers mentally and physically to new seemingly unachievable levels.
But while they were in the midst of their darkest, will-testing moments, the Golden Eagles simultaneously were preparing themselves for the most important three weeks of the season.
All of Ferndale's hard work came to fruition during last week's Class 3A Regional Tournament.
Eleven wrestlers entered regionals looking to qualify for state and all 11 put their names in Mat Classic XXVI brackets thanks to a dominating performance that left Ferndale with an 80-plus point team victory.
"I just think we are sort of peaking at the right time," said Schlack, whose 11 state wrestlers is a new career best for the fourth-year coach. "Guys have been building confidence at the end of the season."
Besides a deep, talented roster, Schlack credited his team's fitness and ability to break opponents first for the Golden Eagles' success.
"We are seeing all that hard work paying off," Schlack said. "Other teams are getting tired in the second period. Our guys are in such good condition, guys aren't tired. We're in close matches and have been winning almost all of them."
Brock Graves (106 pounds), Devon Bennett (120), Klinton Maassen (182) and Chris Hernandez (285) each won regional titles and joining them are Isaiah Heredia (113), Adaeus Wilson-Premo (126), Ben Broselle (145), Taylor Bellefeuille (160), Charnjit Mattu (170), Hunter Grunhurd (195) and Patrick Condon (220).
Maassen, a senior, is part of the first class Schlack has coached all four seasons, and the Golden Eagles 182-pounder said he's witnessed Ferndale's program turnaround.
"When I came in as a freshman, there was kind of you were a part of the wrestling team and not much else to that," Maassen said. "Since last year, and this year especially, it seems like a lot of people take more pride."
Schlack advanced four wrestlers to state his first year, three the following year, nine competed a year ago and his 11 this year matches the most any Class 3A state wrestling team is sending to Mat Classic XXVI on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22, at the Tacoma Dome. Moreover, when Schlack began coaching he only had 30-35 wrestlers.
Now the ideals preached are beginning to stick with Ferndale's athletes, Schlack said.
"Our coach does a lot behind the scenes a lot of (coaches) don't do," Maassen explained. "He's always willing to spend more time with wrestlers during the season. He goes around the nation and coaches other teams for nationals and stuff like that. When we are trying to get better so is he."
Despite Ferndale's rise this winter, it hasn't garnered a ton of statewide respect. The Golden Eagles were left off washingtonwrestlingreport.com's top 20 team rankings that were released Sunday, Feb. 16.
But that's fine with Schlack. He prefers an underestimated team.
"We don't really look at rankings or team rankings," Schlack said. "Our guys, we like being underdogs. We don't have one or two big guys that can win state championships, but our team as a whole is pretty darn good."
While Schlack admitted he was marginally surprised by Ferndale's regional performance, he pointed exactly to the moment he realized the team's talent.
The Golden Eagles competed in the 32-team Everett Classic on Saturday, Jan. 4, and managed to win the tournament with a handful of regulars absent from the tournament. Ferndale still won.
"We won the tournament with one-fourth of our JV team in and I was like, 'Wow, we are actually really kicking butt,'" Schlack said. "It was awesome to see."
Ferndale placed 29th during last year's Classic, in spite of bringing nine wrestlers. Maassen said this season's goal is to crack the top 20 and hopefully finish top 10.
"Hopefully we can wrestle just like we have these last two weeks," Maassen said. "We've hit peaks and lows, but right now it seems like we are at our peak and hopefully we keep that going at state."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
MAT CLASSIC XXVI
When: Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22
Where: Tacoma Dome
CLASS 3A STATE QUALIFIERS
Brock Graves 106
Isaiah Heredia 113
Devon Bennett 120
Adaeus Wilson-Premo 126
Ben Broselle 145
Taylor Bellefeuille 160
Charnjit Mattu 170
Klinton Maassen 182
Hunter Grunhurd 195
Patrick Condon 220
Chris Hernandez 285
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.