Entering the evening's final matches, five Wesco 3A or 4A boys wrestlers faced a bout against the top ranked (according to Washington Wrestling Report) wrestler in their weight class. From my perspective it looked bleak. I thought there was a chance that only Edmonds-Woodway's Noah Cuzzuetto, who was himself ranked No. 1, would be the only local boys champion. Perhaps Lake Stevens' Brandon Johnson (ranked second at 285 pounds) would beat his top-ranked opponent.
Boy was I wrong.
Not only did Cuzzetto win at 106 pounds, but so did Lake Steven's Eric Soler (4A, 126 pounds), Everett's Jessie Lopez (3A, 132 pounds) and Glacier Peak's Sean Elledge (3A, 182 pounds). Each wrestler deserved his own story in the print edition but we had to cram it all into one. Amazingly, all will get another chance next year (all but Cuzzetto, who is a sophomore, are juniors).
Meanwhile Johnson, in the second-to-last bout of the entire Mat Classic, suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses I've seen. Neither Johnson nor Central Kitsap's Kyle Lanoue gave an inch through two and a half periods. Late it looked like Johnson had an edge. The Viking heavyweight had Lanoue by the leg and looked on the verge of a takedown twice, but couldn't complete the move before regulation ran out. Lanoue nearly pinned Johnson in overtime, but Johnson kept his shoulders off the mat, though the match was already decided by a takedown and near fall. Johnson will likely return as the favorite in 2013.
The seniors who performed the best were on the girls side. Everett's Justine Palabrica 100-pound champion and Laura Charboneau (265 pounds).
The best quote that I got of the night came after the final bout. Shorecrest's 3A heavyweight Ian Bolstad had just completed an 8-4 win to capture a state title and had a simple request: “What I really want is sleep,” Bolstad said immediately after the win.
Apparently he had been nervous all week at night and had difficultly sleeping leading up to the meet. He'll sleep well tonight.
One of the most difficult omissions in the story was that of Snohomish. The Panthers brought seven wrestlers to Tacoma and an impressive six placed in the top 8, which was the top number for local teams. None placed higher than third and the team, which ended up ninth overall embodied that it's not all about winning and losing.
“It's fun to be a part of this,” senior 195-pounder Nathan Proffitt said. “It's not so much about how it ends. It's more the journey.”
Geno Obregon, who wrestled at 113 pounds, earned a perhaps dubious distinction. The sophomore lost his second match of the tourney but fought back to finish third, which meant that he had to beat five opponents in two days — one more than the individual champs and two more than second-place finishers.
“For a kid that took third in league third in regional now third in state, we've got to change that number for him next year,” his coach Rob Zabel said jokingly.
Zabel has high standards for his team that broke through and knocked off Lake Stevens in the district tournament, but isn't quite to the high level that the ninth-year coach wants.
“We had a rough day today no question,” Zabel said
Zabel looked to the top of the leader board and thought about what it would be like for his team to experience team glory.
“We're a program that's on the grow,” he said. “We have a long ways to go. The difference between us and Tahoma was 130 points. I can't ever recall a year like this with three teams at the top with 16 guys in the finals, it just doesn't happen.
“We've got a long ways to go. I think we've got a group of kids that are willing to work to get there. Now it's kind of on us to make sure that we get them in the right direction.”
Lake Stevens won four out of the past five team titles and before districts lost two top-ranked wrestlers that didn't make weight. But even they wouldn't have helped the Vikings make up the 99 point deficit between them and Tahoma.
Coach Brent Barnes was hilarious to watch in the final seconds of Soler's win, unable to sit in his chair, he was seemingly hiding behind it. He was especially proud of Soler his only individual champ of the year, but also proud of the Vikings six state qualifiers.
“I'm really proud of our kids,” Barnes said. “We brought six here and placed four in the top four. Coming in with only that many guys, it's tough to make a run at a trophy … we are at least close (fifth). Our guys did pretty much everything they could do.
“Kinsey Johnson bouncing back and taking third and Ryan Olliges had to probably wrestle the toughest guy in the state (the defending 182 pound champ from Mead). Coming back and taking third is pretty impressive.
“They are hard workers they put in a lot of time and effort. They love to wrestle and they are passionate about what they do so it wasn't a surprise. They deserve it and they earned it.”
One of the toughest stories of the tourney to follow was that of Connor Boyce, who was odds-on favorite at 170 pounds in 3A. After finishing second in 2011, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Seagull champ would take home No. 1 this year. A quarterfinal upset changed that. The senior fought back and won two matches in consolation before losing the third-place bout and ending fourth.
“My heart's broken for Connor and his match,” Everett Coach Brien Elliott said. “I just felt like we had that one and it just wasn't to be. It's a roller coaster of emotions. You love all these kids.”
Elliott choked up at the end of that last sentence. He really thinks highly of Boyce, who was understandably crushed by the loss, but didn't give up as many preemptive favorites in his position do.
“It really took a lot (for him to keep fighting) because when a champion loses expecting to win it all, sometimes it's hard to find the motivation to compete. And I asked him to do it for his team, his coaches, his family. His last wrestling after his (quarterfinal) loss was for everyone but him It just goes to show how unselfish he is and what a team player and what a great captain he's been for us.”
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