The 2022 college wrestling national championships are over … but the great...
Washington Association Notes: Lillie to get college opportunity; De La Rosa turns to FCA
Note: The following is an expanded version of story that appeared in the January issue of WIN Magazine. Click here or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe to WIN Magazine.
By Brian Adamowsky
Lillie is Ready for Next Level
Only the realization of a lifelong ambition to become the first member of his family to attend college by virtue of accepting a wrestling scholarship could ease the pain Yusief Lillie felt when it became clear he would not have the chance to chase his fourth high-school state championship in the upside-down 2020-21 season.
On Jan. 2, Lillie signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his wrestling career at Utah Valley University, where he will compete at 125 pounds for the Wolverines.
“I was pretty upset because at first because the high school season isn’t really going to happen,” Lillie said. “But then I realized how much better I’m getting. I’ve been working one-on-one with (Team Aggression co-founder) Geoff Kaylor, and with school being different and everything I can train like that a lot more. And a college scholarship was always part of the plan.”
Lillie, who is the son of Gregory Lillie and Damaris Diaz, and the brother of Adanesne, 21, and Amanda, 11, said the feeling he got when he visited the UVU campus in Orem and the tone of the recruiting message from Wolverines assistant coaches Ethen Lofthouse and Erkin Tadzhimetov convinced him Utah Valley was the right fit for him.
The fact that a pair of friends from Washington, Vancouver’s Danny Snediker and Spokane’s Braxton Mikesell are already at UVU didn’t hurt, either.
“We are excited to have Yusief join the Wolverine family,” Utah Valley coach Greg Williams said in a press release announcing Lillie’s signing. “He is a dedicated student-athlete that has high goals in all areas of his life. He embraces tough challenges and has the work ethic and unwavering focus to be successful here.
“As we got to know Yusief better during the recruiting process, it became clear that he was a great fit for us. We are looking forward to working with him.”
In addition to joining the Utah Valley program, Lillie will also have the opportunity to train at the Brunson Utah Valley Regional Training Center in Orem, headed up by Will Rowe. That supplementary training outlet was also attractive to Lillie in selecting UVU over offers from Oregon State, Air Force, Wyoming, Lehigh and Missouri.
Chris Feist, the Washington State Wrestling Association’s Cadet Director, only coached Lillie at Tahoma High School during the 2019-20 season, when Lillie won his third state title in a Bears singlet. But Feist has known Lillie since he was a youngster and raved about the UVU-bound wrestler’s mat acumen and hunger to excel.
“His wrestling IQ is so incredibly high. That’s the thing that has stood out to me about Yusief since he was a boy,” said Feist. “As a 10 and 11-year-old, he was paying such close attention to little details and asking qualifying questions that I wasn’t getting from juniors and seniors in high school.
“He just loves the sport of wrestling and he’s always finding ways to get on a mat, to train, even if it’s just footwork and agility work by himself. He has a hunger to be around wrestling people and improve. Utah Valley is getting a good one.”
Lillie won 3A state championships in 2018 and 2019 for Bonney Lake High School at 106 and 113 pounds, respectively, before winning the 120-pound 4A crown for Tahoma in 2020.
In addition to his high-school dominance that includes a 123-5 career record, Lillie has also excelled at the national level. He is a three-time Fargo All-American in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, placing in the top four in each of his appearances.
He won the 100-pound Greco-Roman championship in 2017 to go along with two other top-four finishes.
Lillie said transferring to Tahoma from Bonney Lake, where he wrestled for Dan Pitsch, forced him to chart his own path.
“At Bonney Lake I more followed guys like BK (Brandon Kaylor, currently wrestling at Oregon State) and Chao (Brendan Chaowanapibool, Air Force) and I had a lot of good partners,” he said. “When I transferred to Tahoma, I had to work out more for myself. Coach Pitsch and Coach Feist have very different ways of coaching, but it was good for me.”
If a 2020-21 high school season materializes — which despite recent updates from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association remains very much uncertain — Lillie would compete for Orting High School. The Lillie family now lives in Orting after a brief move to Post Falls, Idaho — where wrestling season is underway as normal — didn’t work out.
Orting’s wrestling program, led by coach Jody Coleman, is a 2A school in the South Puget Sound League which has finished in the top three of the team standings at the state tournament every year since 2005.
Whatever form the season winds up taking, Lillie will soon transition to being a college wrestler, and leave high school wrestling behind. It’s one of the steepest adjustments in any sport, as the paucity of NCAA Division I programs has narrowed those who compete at that level to the best of the best.
That can be a struggle, even for those as talented as Lillie.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to be the best in any room I was training in,” he said. “I’m hard-working. I’ll start from the bottom and work my way all the way to the top.”
Feist, who wrestled at Central Washington University from 1995-2001, knows the pitfalls of making the transition to college wrestling better than most.
“A lot of talented high school wrestlers go on to college that loved a lot of things about their high school wrestling experience, but it doesn’t always click or fit when it gets to college,” he said. “From D-I all the way down to junior college, there are wrestlers where it just doesn’t work out the way they want it to because they just weren’t having fun anymore. Unless you love wrestling for the sake of wrestling, as I believe Yusief does, it’s a grind. It’s a real difficult journey to stay the course.”
For Lillie, who has always dreamed bigger than just high school excellence, the opportunity to wrestle at the Division I level, and money towards a college education, was always the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“It’s just super exciting,” he said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and me and my dad have been planning for me to do this. It’s all been part of the process. It’s just a big relief because I’ve been so stressed out about it. It feels really good.”
De La Rosa, FCA get behind St. Germain
In his two years in charge of the Pacific Northwest wrestling chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Peter De La Rosa made many meaningful spiritual contacts with the region’s wrestlers but didn’t feel wrestling was as much in the spotlight as other sports.
He sought to change that by assembling a team of wrestlers to compete under the FCA banner at the Who’s Bad National Classic on Jan. 1-3 in Bullhead City, Arizona. Twenty-nine boys and girls from around Washington represented FCA, and in addition to the High School Girls dual team winning the championship, 19 earned medals as individuals.
De La Rosa, a native of Sunnyside, who describes himself as, “a guy who loves wrestling but wasn’t very good at it and who has a passion for Jesus Christ” was assisted by coaches Tony Nuñez, Israel Silva, Rory Coleman and Anthony Zuniga at the tournament.
“God put it on my heart to have a tournament team one time a year, at the end of the year,” De La Rosa said. “It would be inclusive, anyone could come, but win or lose we were going to represent Jesus Christ and bring hope and encouragement.”
De La Rosa has garnered notice in Washington and elsewhere for handing out red T-shirts with the name “Jesus” printed across the front in capital block letters and wrestling tournaments. He said he has been shouted out by former Ohio State wrestling standout Joey McKenna and Penn State star Jason Nolf, on social media for the T-shirts he gave them.
“They’re both really strong in their faith,” he said.
De La Rosa said he wants to expand the competition side of FCA in the Pacific Northwest and said that personnel from tournament promoter Rocky Mountain Nationals Events (RMN Events) approached him in Arizona about having a presence at as many of RMN’s events as possible.
He is particularly proud of the role FCA has played in the recovery of Adrian St. Germain, a redshirt freshman at Hofstra University and three-time Washington state champion and FCA member who was hospitalized on Nov. 27 after, according to a CaringBridge website created by Adrian’s mother, Sarah, Adrian suffered “a severe hypoxic ischemic event that caused multi-system organ failure, including diffuse brain damage.”
This event, which substantially reduced the amount of oxygen flowing to Adrian’s brain, was caused by excessive alcohol use and resulted in Adrian being in a coma for 45 days, De La Rosa said.
“I got all these calls, because what happens when bad things happen is that coaches call me to take solace in people who have faith,” he said. “The first words out of some of their mouths was that Adrian could die.”
The next day, De La Rosa held the first of 45 consecutive prayer chapels over Zoom, which included supporters from Washington, Hofstra’s campus in Hempstead, New York and other distant locales.
“There have been 30-80 people on there every night, including Hofstra’s head coach (Dennis Papadatos) and people from Chile, Australia and 12 other states,” De La Rosa said.
On day 45, Monday Jan. 11, Adrian emerged from his coma, started speaking in full sentences the following day, and has continued to improve since then.
“We’ll have to see what the future holds, but I want us to be about unity and hope,” De La Rosa said. “All wrestlers in the region would have the opportunity to come be a part of something that is extremely encouraging and positive. We give athletes the opportunity to share their faith, not to be religious.”
- Brian Adamowsky has covered wrestling in Washington for 13 years and is based in Snohomish. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.