PORTLAND – Thurston High School has one of the more storied wrestling programs in the state, yet senior Kaylee Annis accomplished something no other Thurston wrestler has ever done. On Sunday morning, Annis beat Mia Pedersen of Redmond to become the school’s first three-time state wrestling champion.
“I’m the first three-time state champion in Thurston history. No boy has done it. No girl has done it, I’m the first. It just feels so amazing. It feels amazing for women,” Annis said immediately following the championship victory. “I’m doing this as a woman and it makes me feel amazing. I don’t think it’s hit me yet, because I haven’t cried yet. I think my adrenaline is a little high right now.”
Thurston head coach Mike Simons was there every step of the way, cheering Annis on to victory. Seeing her come into the program as a freshman to where she is now: a three-time champion.
“It’s amazing. She is one of the top athletes to come through Thurston’s wrestling program, boys or girls,” Simons said. “She’s very skilled, and an awesome teammate. I can’t say enough about her. She’s an excellent student, and just an awesome young lady.”
That freshman year was where Annis made a name for herself in the Oregon high school girls wrestling community. Annis went into the state tournament as a freshman underdog and ended up upsetting the No. 2 wrestler in the semifinals before falling to the No. 1 seed in the finals.
“I didn’t even think I was gonna make the finals that year in all honesty. I was a six-seed, and in my semifinals match I had to wrestle someone I had previously lost to that year. I went out to my semifinals match thinking I was probably gonna lose,” Annis said. “Then I go there, and I pin her and I was really shocked. I eventually got pinned in the finals and I was just really defeated.
The loss proved vital to Annis’ growth though. It was after that freshman year loss that she got back to work, ready to prove herself the next season.
“After that, I started running two miles every single day and I worked with Coach one-on-one a lot. I just think I really earned this for myself. I pushed myself to definitely earn it, and I’m really proud,” she said.
Annis definitely earned it. She came back her sophomore year and went 13-0 to win her first state championship. Junior year, more of the same, and another state title. Then the beginning of this season happened. Annis fell twice early in the season, a surprise after such a dominant two-year run.
“I honestly struggled a lot mentally this season. My college decision was just really getting to me, and I lost two matches early in the season. My parents sat me down and were like, ‘what’s going on?’” Annis said. “I just said, ‘I’m just so stressed out right now.’ So we finally sat down, and I decided to commit to Southern Oregon, and I’m so excited. And then that’s when my wrestling just started taking off, and I started doing better and working harder. Once I made that decision it really skyrocketed my wrestling.”
Those two early losses were the only ones of the season for Annis. Finally, the years of hard work paid off big time in a full-circle moment – Annis won her third state championship on the very same floor she lost on her freshman year.
“My coach actually asked me how I felt coming back to the arena I originally lost in,” Annis said. “I was definitely a little nervous, but I think I proved myself here today.”