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A Yakima Herald-Republic file photo of Sunnyside wrestling coach George Paulus. (MADISON McCORD/Yakima Herald-Republic file)

YAKIMA, Wash. — Each time I cover Sunnyside wrestling, and with his elite program that means a lot, I always enjoy visiting with George Paulus. He’s one of my all-time favorites — direct, unfiltered and an honest critic.

And so passionate about his kids and his sport.

George coached his last home match Thursday night because he’s retiring at the end of the season. His Grizzlies, ranked second in the state, made quick work of Wenatchee to finish a perfect 6-0 in CBBN matches. Sunnyside honored their Hall of Famer before the varsity match with a packed house on hand.

Perhaps I’ll catch up with George when Davis hosts the district tournament in two weeks, but certainly a few weeks later at Mat Classic. It was 30 years ago when I covered his first state champion, Albert Garza in 1990, and he has added 22 more state champions since.

Having spent more than 40 years coaching in Sunnyside, the last 31 as head coach at the high school, George has rolled up a ton of impressive numbers. That’s how he got inducted into the state coaches Hall of Fame seven years ago. But the two-time NAIA national qualifier while at Central Washington has one number that impresses me most — 20 team finishes in the top 10 at Mat Classic.

Twenty.

At the 4A and 3A level, that requires talent, depth and consistency every year and he delivered. And the Grizzlies will most surely make it No. 21 next month.

I’d see George occasionally in the fall if I covered a Sunnyside football game because he would be working the first-down chains. Our conversation would start something like this, “First day of practice isn’t too far off, George, how’s this team looking?,” I’d say. “Well, pretty darn good,” he’d answer, “but it depends on how hard they want to work. You know how that goes.”

Months later, I’d be making the rounds on the floor of the Tacoma Dome and it would be clear George’s crew had worked plenty hard. Never a slow moment, he’d always have a wrestler on deck at state and his team would be making another climb up the top-10 leaderboard. Then, for Saturday’s showcase championship session, he’d have to break out his nice sport coat again.

I’m looking forward to all that again next month, George, one last time.

All-time defense

When I wrote here two weeks ago about West Valley’s defense and how committed the Rams are to maximizing its potential, I didn’t imagine what transpired Saturday.

Nobody could.

Exiting Davis Gym with a 62-22 win over the Pirates was remarkable in a bunch of ways, most notably holding a quality team 50 points under its average. Davis, which has topped 80 points four times and put up 98 against Hermiston, managed seven field goals and shot 17.5% for the game.

West Valley’s defensive average through 14 games is 43.4 and that includes an 82-58 setback to Mt. Spokane in the second game of the season. The only better 4A defense is currently Glacier Peak (41.0), which is 13-0 and ranked second.

My attempts to find a better defensive performance in a single game for West Valley petered out in 1962-1963 — as far back as our records go — with a 55-23 win over Highland.

The Rams will begin their second run through CBBN play on Friday at Sunnyside and then they host second-place Eastmont on Saturday. Eastmont lost to WV 60-47 in the first meeting and those 47 points are the most anyone has scored against the Rams since Dec. 11.

Girls on the rise

With 11 girls medalists at Mat Classic in 2018 and 14 a year ago, it’s looking like the floodgates might open for the Valley next month.

With third-ranked Toppenish leading the way, four local girls teams ranked among the state’s top 10 and 20 individuals currently rank in the top 10 at their respective weights.

The Valley claimed six of the first eight titles between 100 and 135 pounds at Saturday’s 52-team Lady Huskies Invitational in Othello. Most will reconvene this Saturday for another big competition in Grandview.

One of winners from Othello, Sunnyside freshman Alexxus Ramos, was named the WIAA’s Class 4A girls athlete of the week after winning her fourth tournament title. She is 26-2 at 110 pounds.

Toppenish’s emergence as a trophy contender at state has been powered by sophomore Isabella Morales (105) and freshman Ruby Rios (125), who both won at Othello and are a combined 44-3.

Toppenish’s Haiden Drury is the state’s top wrestler regardless of classification, according to Todd Milles of Scorebook Live. Other locals on the list of 14 boys include Granger sophomore Gage Cook (No. 7), Selah senior Amadeo Flores Pimentel (10) and Toppenish sophomore Horacio Godinez (12). Morales is No. 4 on the girls list with Granger senior Viktorya Torres at No. 7.

Expanding Class 3A

As I have written recently, the 3A classification is poised to become the state’s biggest in the next enrollment cycle set to start this fall. When the WIAA Executive Board gives its final approval for the 2020-2024 classifications on Sunday, 80 or more schools will be 3A.

There are 17 schools currently in the 4A ranks that are headed down and three others appealing to go down. The 17 on the move include Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Auburn Riverside, Beamer, Cascade, Enumclaw, Ferris, Hazen, Heritage, Jefferson, Kentlake, Kent-Meridian, Monroe, Mount Vernon, Mead, University and Walla Walla.

Enumclaw, in fact, is dropping all the way to 2A and not because of the socioeconomic reduction. Enumclaw opted up from 3A to 4A for the 2016-2020 cycle and now, with nearly 100 fewer students, the school is at 894 and just below the 2A ceiling of 899.

The state’s biggest opt-ups are, as usual, Bellarmine Prep, Kennedy Catholic and Gonzaga Prep. All three have enrollment numbers in the mid-2A range and they will all continue to opt-up to 4A. ... Of the 16 schools declaring opt-ups to 3A, 13 are Seattle Metro schools. ... All 12 opt-ups to 1A are private schools.

Based on grades 9 through 11, Chiawana is the state’s largest school with 2,177 students. Pasco is in the top 10 so it’s not surprising that city is planning to build a new high school. Tahoma is No. 2 (1,984) followed by Lake Stevens (1,917).

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