The home crowd advantage was in full effect at the Class 1A Regional Boys Wrestling Tournament at Blaine High School February 15, where the Borderites won the day and sent more athletes to the state tournament than ever before.
Blaine won the tournament with 256.5 team points, and 14 Blaine wrestlers placed in the top four for their division to earn bids to the state wrestling tournament – the Mat Classic, held in the Tacoma this Friday and Saturday, February 21 and 22. Coupled with Olivia Adams’ championship performance at the girls regional wrestling tournament, the 15 Blaine wrestlers
moving on to state are a bigger group than longtime head coach Craig Foster can ever remember sending.
“It’s the most I’ve ever sent, and it’s pretty rare for any school to have a group this large heading to state,” Foster said. “We really didn’t drop any of those key matches where we were fighting for a state bid. I can’t remember another time when we’ve done that.”
In addition to Adams’ championship performance, four Borderites won their weight division in the boys regional tournament: Billy Dodd (120 lbs.), Anthony Frey (132 lbs.), Caleb Frey (138 lbs.) and Jon Stewart (160 lbs.).
Second place finishers for Blaine were Kyle Gonzales (106 lbs.), Riley Fritsch (126 lbs.), Christian Sharp (152 lbs.), Tristan Hunter (170 lbs.) and Mike Antczak (285 lbs.).
Finishing third in their division were Colton Economy (113 lbs.), Derreck Camba (120 lbs.), Gage Lott (126 lbs.) and Tanner Anthony (182 lbs.). Stuey Rasar (106 lbs.) came in fourth and Israel Hernandez (220 lbs.) will be an alternate after placing fifth.
Looking back at the tournament, Foster said it would be impossible to choose a match that sticks out, but he was especially pleased to see wrestlers earning third and fourth place finishes.
“Those matches to get to the third and fourth place consolation round are the most intense for me, because if they win they move on to state and if they lose they’re done for the season,” Foster said. “We wrestled especially well in those critical matches.”
Two freshmen, Economy and Camba, won their consolation matches to earn third place bids to state. “To go to state feels
awesome, especially as a freshman,” Economy said.
Camba had to defeat an opponent from Vashon who had bested him earlier in the season to earn his third place bid to state. “I came in knowing he’d be here and I’d have to face him,” Camba said. “It fueled me to come in harder and stronger, and I got the win when it mattered.”
Lott earned his bid to state by overcoming a loss in the first round. He went on to defeat Bobby Brien from Rochester who placed sixth in the state last year, and then sealed third place with a dominant 6–0 win against Nooksack Valley’s Paul Newell.
“I was going for the pin, but I couldn’t turn him,” Lott said. Lott wrestled in the Mat Classic last year, and said the experience would help him wrestle better at this year’s state tournament. “Now that I’ve seen how the state tournament works, I’m that much more confident that I’ll be able to wrestle my best,” he said.
The atmosphere at the Mat Classic will undoubtedly be more intense than the regional tournament, but fans in the Blaine High School gymnasium were plenty supportive of the all-or-nothing battles taking place on the mats. Wrestlers put all their focus into making it to the next round, with the hard work and hopes of an entire season often hinging on the outcome of a single match. Coaches, family and fans yelling from outside the ring amplified the stakes, and the decibel level rose higher than the much larger Battle at the Border wrestling tournament held in the same room earlier this season.
“Having our fan base there was really cool,” Foster said. “It was fun to have so many fans cheering, and I think our kids really fed off the energy of so much support. It was kind of like the Seattle Seahawks – you could feel the intensity.”
One match that typified the high stakes of the tournament was Tanner Anthony’s match against Beck Davis from South Whidbey. The winner would move on to a seeding match assured of a spot in the state tournament, while the loser would head to their final match of the season to wrestle for a fifth place finish at 182 lbs.
Anthony and Beck battled to a draw with eight points apiece, but Anthony came out on top in overtime. “He kept fighting and fighting to get the sudden death match point,” Foster said. “That was a great moment.” Anthony went on to win his seeding match and finished in third.
On the whole, the Borderites couldn’t have asked for a better regional tournament performance, Foster said.
“It’s been a solid day. To have a couple of freshmen move on to the state tournament is a great thing,” he said. “It’s been interesting this whole year because different kids will step up at each tournament. We don’t really have the lone superstar. Instead we have a lot of really good wrestlers.”
Now that 15 of those wrestlers have cleared the final hurdle to the state tournament, the mindset of the team is the same as it has been all postseason.
“We want to continue to keep the dream alive,” Foster said. “At regionals, you could come out and hurt yourself if a good kid has an off day and doesn’t make it through. We feel like we’ve kept our dream alive, so our goal is to go to bed Friday night and still be in the conversation for the team title.”
While the Borderites have put themselves in a good position to make a strong bid for the state title, teams from several other schools are looking just as strong. Granger, the defending champion, is ranked No. 1 just ahead of Blaine, and teams such as Forks, Quincy and Vashon are all contenders.
“There are seven or eight teams that could win it, and there isn’t any one dominant team, so that’s what makes it exciting,” Foster said. “You just never know at state. You can go into it with high hopes and be out by Friday, or you can go in not expecting very much and surprise everyone. We just hope we wrestle well.”
The 26th Mat Classic in the Tacoma Dome begins Friday, February 21 at 10 a.m. and continues on Saturday, February 22 at 10 a.m.
Tickets are good for one day and cost $18.52 for adults and $14.42 for seniors and students with a valid ASB card. Tickets can be found at http://tinyurl.com/matclassic14.