Commentary: Denny Hamlin, Lake Stevens, and female wrestler steal the headlines – even in Seattle sports

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It kind of feels like “Turn Back The Clock” Night for me, because ten years ago in Bakersfield, Calif., I was leading my sportscasts on a regular basis with the sports of NASCAR and wrestling – and tonight, for the first time ever in Seattle, I have a legitimate reason to talk about both sports right off the bat.

Take another look at the incredible finish to the Daytona 500 – the closest in the race’s history.

NASCAR fan or not, you have to appreciate the biggest race of the year coming down to one 1/100th of a second! Traditionalists will probably kill me for saying it, but you only really needed to watch those final two laps to get goosebumps, as Denny Hamlin somehow rode the outside lane and hung on for dear life.

I say it at least once a year, but I implore all the non-racing fans out there to one day try to make it to a race. Seeing it in person – hearing the engines, feeling the vibrations – you’ll never forget it. And I promise you’ll walk away with a brand new appreciation for the sport.

Closer to home, we had the annual Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome – another incredibly unique sight if you’ve never been there before. And while we’ll take time to honor all our state championship teams later in the show, there’s one team and a couple individuals that deserve major props tonight.

Lake Stevens won its 10th state title in school history – and 7th in the last 10 years. And they were led by senior Michael Soler, who became the first wrestler in state history to win four individual titles in the 4A division. Plus, he did so after a major growth spurt, winning at 170 pounds one year after winning at 132.

Probably because there aren’t any Division I wrestling programs in this state, we don’t normally give the sport the attention its due. But tonight, we celebrate the continued success of Brent Barnes’ program in Lake Stevens – and Soler in particular, who Barnes described this way earlier this week:

“He’s an all-around super human being. He’s extremely driven in the classroom. He’s good to his teammates. He’s good to his classmates. He’s just the kind of guy you want around your program. The kind of guy you want to have represent you,” Barnes said.

So to Coach Barnes, to Soler, and to every member of the Vikings state championship team, enjoy the reality of meeting lofty expectations – we congratulate you all tonight. We also give a shoutout to Puyallup's Jordyn Bartleson, becoming just the 2nd female wrestler to win four state titles.

And wow – that was a throwback: NASCAR and wrestling, back-to-back in the same sportscast: An overdue reminder that market size doesn’t always have to dictate which sports are most important.

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