ARLINGTON — Long-term injuries to two of his top wrestlers have forced Arlington coach Jonny Gilbertson to be even more of a riverboat gambler than usual with his coaching decisions this season, as a retooled Eagles lineup has scrapped for every point to keep pace in the top-heavy Wesco 3A North.
Gilbertson gambled on a trio of underclassmen, took the advice of assistant coach Ben Mendro on a shrewd lineup move, and all three wagers paid off big in the Eagles’ 37-25 Senior Night victory over Everett on Thursday.
Combined with undefeated Marysville Pilchuck’s win over Snohomish on Thursday, the Eagles sit at 4-1 with a tiebreaker over Everett and a match with the Tomahawks next Thursday. Everett is 3-1, and needs to beat Marysville Pilchuck on Tuesday to stay in the race.
The Eagles have been without 106-pounder Daniel Heiss (broken thumb) since early December and 152-pounder and three-time state placer Gavin Rork (strained lat/rotator cuff) since late December, and have needed more unheralded wrestlers to fill the void.
Three of them did exactly than in consecutive matches Thursday, and the net result was a 12-point swing in favor of the Eagles, which happened to be their margin of victory over the Seagulls.
“That was the match,” Gilbertson said. “We like to coach an aggressive style, and if we see an opponent starting to fade late in a match, we want to push the pace and pick it up a little bit. It worked out tonight.”
Mendro’s move started it all. Knowing Arlington would have to forfeit at either 195 or 220 pounds, Mendro suggested the former, as Everett 195-pounder Christian Balmer (ranked eighth in 3A by Washington Wrestling Report) was likely to pin Eagles’ sophomore Connor Stockman.
Mendro noticed that Everett’s 220-pounder, Wyatt Tuohimaa, also weighed in at 195, so Stockman would be at a manageable weight deficit.
After the forfeit at 195 made the score 25-22 Everett, Stockman pinned Tuohimaa with five seconds remaining in the first period to put the Eagles back up 28-25.
“It was basically two 195-pound guys wrestling at 220 pounds,” Gilbertson said. “Coach Mendro is a genius on that one.”
At 285 and 106 pounds — bouts that were wrestled consecutively since the match started at 120 — Gilbertson bet on Hayden Strande and Dorian Tollenaar, a sophomore and a freshman, respectively, to get takedowns late in close matches.
Both came through for the Eagles.
Gilbertson instructed Strande to cut Everett’s Aurick Martinez loose to start the third period, intentionally allowing Martinez to get a one-point escape in hopes that Strande would be able to take him down for two points.
Martinez, a relatively small 285-pounder, was laboring late in the match against the bigger Strande.
“We tried to make something happen there since we were wearing on them a little bit, and here comes big Hayden with that head-and-arm and he put him on his back,” Gilbertson said.
The two-for-one worked again at 106, as Tollenaar cut Jonah Palabrica after a takedown early in the third period, tying the bout at four apiece.
Tollenaar, a freestyle specialist who excels on his feet but struggles from the top position, took Palabrica down and put him to his back for a five-point combination, winning 9-4.
Arlington recorded four of its eight victories via pinfall Thursday versus one pin in six wins for the Seagulls, a fact lamented by Everett coach Brien Elliott.
“Their matchups were better and they got pins and we didn’t. It’s as simple as that,” Elliott said. “Overall, I think we wrestled really well and we’re just going to keep moving forward. We’re not going to panic and throw the season away because of this.”