In the final match of the two-day Battle at the Border tournament, hometown wrestler Mike Antczak erased the memory of his second place finish in 2012 and replaced it with a dominating, state-caliber performance to win the 285-pound
“He did a great job and accomplished a goal he had for a long time, so he felt really good about winning the match,” said
longtime Blaine coach Craig Foster, who has organized the annual tournament every year since 2000. “He pretty much controlled the match from start to finish. It was never in doubt that he was going to win. The guy he was wrestling was a state title contender last year so it reflects really well on Mike.”
Antczak, a senior, was Blaine’s only champion, but second-place finishes by Jon Stewart, Kyle Gonzales and Stuey Rasar, and third place
finishes by five other Blaine wrestlers were enough to float the team to second place behind Sedro-Woolley.
A total of 10 Blaine wrestlers at the tournament placed in the top six for their weight; more than Foster can ever remember.
“Our kids all take special pride in wrestling well in this tournament, because it’s a big tournament but it’s also on their home turf. They know it’s something special,” he said.
This year, 20 teams came to Blaine from as far away as Kalama on the Oregon border. One athlete from Kalama said his team has been driving the four hours to Blaine for seven years because they know they’ll be able to measure themselves against the best high school wrestlers in western Washington, which prepares them well for the postseason. The state tournament is organized by school size to keep competition fair, and only 16 schools fill the tournament brackets, but the Battle at the Border hosts 20 to 24 teams from schools of all sizes.
“Some of the weight classes in this tournament are tougher than what you’ll see at state,” Foster explained. “Coaches see it
as a good opportunity to see how their teams stack up against strong competitors early in the season.”
Foster said he was pleased with how Blaine stacked up, and especially impressed to see so many third place finishers. The seeding match for third and fourth place comes after each athlete has lost a round, and it’s not an easy match to win.
“It’s hard to come back from a loss knowing you’re wrestling for team points and not a shot at the championship. Third place is a quality finish in a tough tournament, and having five wrestlers who were able to win that match is impressive,” Foster said.
Blaine’s third place finishers were Billy Dodd at 120 pounds, Riley Fritsch at 126, Gage Lott at 132, Caleb Frey at 145 and Christian Sharp at 152. They all won their final matches by points rather than pins.
Close matches were a theme for Blaine wrestlers. Jon Stewart knew he had to face a tough opponent from Sedro-Woolley before moving on to the 160-pound championship round.
“I beat him last year, but it was close,” Stewart said before his semi-final match against Clayton Johnson.
The match began as a defensive battle, and as wrestling progressed to the ground, Stewart controlled the match but struggled to win points. Towards the end of the match, Stewart got a breakaway point and a reversal for a total of three points, and Johnson’s one breakaway point came in the final seconds as Stewart won 3–1. Connor Small from Liberty High School won the weight division, beating Stewart 6–3 in the championship round.
Gonzales put up two decisive wins, 17–2 and 14–9, to get to the championship match at 113 pounds, but lost in the final match to Brett Dykman from Todd Beamer High School. Stuey Rasar lost to Sedro-Woolley’s Bryce Hornbeck in the championship match at 106 pounds.
“He wrestled tough to place second. That’s a real confidence builder for him,” Foster said. Tristan Hunter rounded out Blaine’s top finishers, placing sixth at 160 pounds.
For those who haven’t been to Battle at the Border, it’s a big spectacle for a relatively small high school. Wrestling mats take over the entire gym floor, and the stands become a home away from home for hundreds of athletes, coaches, parents and fans. It’s not uncommon to see exhausted athletes, still in gear, napping under blankets in stands and in the hallway, or walking around with headphones on to get psyched up for their next match. Coolers full of food denote each team’s home base, as parents and coaches make sure their kids are eating enough. The room is filled with noise as announcers direct athletes to upcoming matches, fans cheer for four matches at once and kids who haven’t seen each other since last year catch up and talk wrestling.
“It’s a big event, and it went really well,” said athletic director Wayne Vezzetti. There were no major injuries beyond a few sprains and the occasional bloody nose.
“We had a lot of great help making everything run smoothly,” Foster said. “The parent group is really supportive. They bring food, help set up, help take down and clean up and it wouldn’t be possible without all the people who volunteer and help out.”
Battle at the Border is the Blaine wrestling team’s only fundraiser, and supports the team through the whole season as well as wrestling camps over the summer.
The Borderites will split up this weekend, with veteran wrestlers traveling to the Tri-State Tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and the rest of the team heading to a tournament at Mount Vernon on Saturday, December 21.
The action in Mount Vernon begins at 10 a.m.