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Foes cry ‘Yeiks’ against brothers
Slumped over a trainers table, Branden Yeik covered his right eye with a bag of ice. It was swollen shut and the color of Trojan blue, his prize for a second-place finish.
This was the scene inside the tunnel at the Tacoma Dome in February minutes after Yeik came up shy in his bid for a second consecutive state wrestling title, losing the 140-pound championship match at Mat Classic XXI to Enumclaw’s Jason Gray.
Fast forward 10 months.
“Just like last year, I definitely have my eyes on the prize. I’m shooting for first place again,” Yeik said. “But this year, I feel a different motivation. Not only do I want to win state, but I want to be untouchable.”
Bigger, stronger and as motivated as ever, Yeik is having an explosive senior season. The 145-pounder, who won a state title at 130 as a sophomore, is undefeated going into the second half of the schedule.
He registered two victories Wednesday in Olympic’s double dual against Sequim and North Mason and is the state’s No. 1-ranked wrestler at 145.
“Branden is driven this year,” coach Steve Polillo said. “Not only is he driven, but he’s made a quantum leap in maturity.”
But Branden isn’t the only Yeik eying a trip to the Tacoma Dome.
Enter younger brother Cody — ‘Baby Yeik’ — a 15-year-old sophomore who has wrestled alongside Branden at the club level since the age of 4.
Cody, ranked No. 3 in the state at 112, is drawing from his brother’s experiences to put together what he, too, hopes is a state-championship season.
“I want to be the first three-timer that Olympic has had,” he said, referring to winning three state titles.
To accomplish that feat, Cody will have to one-up fellow club wrestler and rival Jake Velarde, a North Kitsap freshman who is ranked No. 2 in the state. He defeated Yeik last weekend at the Olympic Duals.
The two will face each other four more times before season’s end.
“I didn’t wrestle very smart against him,” Yeik said. “I got too anxious for points and he caught me.”
Neither Cody nor Branden is accustomed to losing.
Cody didn’t lose a single match in junior high and has lost just two this season. Branden entered his senior year with a 71-4 record.
Those winning ways, coupled with a work ethic Polillo called “second to none,” give the Yeik brothers a legitimate chance to bring home two state titles.
For Branden, a second championship would be the ultimate culmination to an already impressive career.
“Branden’s not worried or scared of anybody. He knows what he needs to do, he’s helping the team and he’s working his tail off,” Polillo said. “Branden is doing what Branden needs to do.”
Cody, meanwhile, continues to hone his skills — he said the coaches are helping him improve his footwork — while adjusting to the elevated competition of high school wrestling.
Polillo and Cody are learning each other’s nuances and building a relationship based on mutual respect.
“Cody is an unknown quantity to me. It’s going to take awhile for Cody and I to get to know each other and for him to learn a little respect for me, I think,” Polillo said. “But it goes both ways. Cody has got to learn to respect me, and I’ve got to understand what he does.
Time will tell. I don’t want to sing his praise yet because I just don’t know him.”
Having a brother on the team has given Cody a boat of confidence, though both he and Branden admit there is a strong sibling rivalry when it comes to grappling.
Both called themselves “aggressive” wrestlers, but according to Branden, “I always win.”
“We’re like your average brothers — we’re always fighting and stuff — but it makes it worse that we’re both pretty damn good wrestlers too,” Branden said, laughing. “We really duke it out, but we get along for the most part.”
Brotherly competition aside, Branden is proud of Cody’s accomplishments and potential. During Branden’s sophomore season, older sister Camie, 19, reached the state wrestling championships.
Branden remembers the leadership and mentoring his sister provided and wants to do the same for Cody.
“I had a great season sophomore year, and most of it I wouldn’t have been able to do without my sister on the team motivating me every single day,” he said. “Now I assume that role, doing it for Cody.”