TACOMA — Kamiak High School girls wrestling coach John Baldwin saw more in junior Diana Cantini than she saw in herself at Mat Classic XXXI.
He expected no less than a top-three finish. Her reaction? Surprise.
“Top three? Wow,” she said. “My goal has been top five.”
But Cantini’s quick takedowns and strong ability in the top position were as good as advertised in the 110-pound bracket. Cantini pinned her first opponent, then went on to outscore the next three by a combined score of 19-5 — including former runner-up Stephanie Blankenship of Sunnyside — to reach the finals and face top-ranked Salyna Shotwell of Rogers.
Cantini was pinned in the finals by Shotwell, who finished third in 2018. Cantini started the match as the aggressor, but Shotwell countered her second takedown attempt to score two points.
Cantini’s attempts to escape from the bottom position, down 2-0 in the second period, were denied by Shotwell, who sealed the victory with an arm bar with 30 seconds remaining in the period.
Cantini finished the season 26-4 and became the program’s first official finalist. Former Knights girls wrestler Ally de la Cruz’s state title in 2017 was before Kamiak officially had a girls program.
“I’m very grateful I got a chance to wrestle in the finals,” Cantini said. “It’s a really big deal and not a lot of people get to have that.
“I remember Ally de la Cruz and she would always win. I want to keep that going.”
Baldwin said that while he was disappointed in the final outcome, seeing Cantini exceed her own expectations was a thrill.
“She definitely left it all out there,” Baldwin said. “It’s not what I was hoping for. Overall, it was a fantastic season.”
On three different occasions this season, a matchup between Marysville Pilchuck’s Cayden White and Bethel’s Josh Walker, two of the state’s elite 170-pound wrestlers, seemed inevitable.
All three times it never materialized.
At the Gut Check Challenge, the MP Premier and the canceled regional tournament that would have included White’s Tomahawks and Walker’s Braves, circumstances conspired to postpone the meeting.
The two finally met in the state finals, and Walker proved too strong, too quick and too athletic for White in a 10-2 major decision.
Walker got the first takedown of the match, and as so often happens, carried that momentum through the bout.
“That kind of forced Cayden to change his game plan pretty early,” Marysville Pilchuck coach Craig Iversen said. “(Walker was just incredibly athletic.”
White said struck up a friendship with Walker after competing with him at a tournament a year ago. After the match, the champion gave the runner-up a few words of encouragement.
“He told me if I got a little stronger and kept working that I would win next year,” White said.
In the title bout at 126 pounds, North Central’s Clayton Gilliam took control early on against Edmonds-Woodway senior Grayson LeCompte and never relinquished it in a 10-1 major decision.
“When you give up the first takedown of a match, it’s very hard to come back and win at this level,” Warriors coach Brian Alfi said. “And then when you get down 5-0, the complexion of the match changes again. (Gilliam) didn’t have to open up or put himself at risk. And he didn’t. He’s a smart kid who’s been in the finals four times. It’s tough.”
Gilliam, competing in the finals for the fourth time in his prep career, won his second championship Saturday.
He also won the 120-pound crown as a sophomore in 2017. LeCompte (37-7) placed eighth in the same bracket, and finished third at 126 last season.
The way the final unfolded was in stark contrast to the dominant performances put in by LeCompte in his other two matches Saturday.
Using his leg ride to devastating effect, LeCompte beat Wilson’s Brock Williamson by technical fall in the quarterfinals and blanked Yelm’s Ryan Davis 10-0 in the semis.
Sultan junior Aidan Fleming became a part of state wrestling history, albeit in defeat, in the final at 132 pounds, putting up a good fight in a 3-1 loss to Colville’s Trent Baun, who won his fourth state championship with the victory.
Baun became the 16th wrestler in state history to accomplish the feat, and the first since Dalton Young of Lakeside (9 Mile Falls) did so in 2017.
Baun earned a takedown on the edge of the mat in the first period and an escape in the second, and was only threatened for the last few seconds of the bout after Fleming picked up an escape to come within a takedown of tying the match.
“I saw that he missed a big part of the season with a back injury, so I thought I might be able to wear him out,” Fleming said. “It was tough because he was always in control of the mat. Thinking about it now, I probably should have taken more chances, but I got to the finals against one of the best wrestlers here.”
Sultan went 0-for-2 in championship bouts Saturday, as 220-pound junior Tyler Deason fell to freshman Gage Cook of Granger 8-2.
Deason couldn’t get much going offensively against Cook, whose agility and quick feet belies his size. He was the national runner-up at the Cadet Greco National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota in July.
“He has rare speed for a guy that big,” Sultan coach Garth MacDicken said. “He moves like a light guy.”
Tonasket’s Isaac Lopez took control in the third period en route to a 5-3 victory over Darrington’s Johnny Franke in the championship bout at 195 pounds.
The final round began with the two wrestlers knotted at two, but Gomez earned an escape and a takedown to take a 5-2 lead, and fended off Franke’s attacks the rest of the way.
Franke finished his junior season with a record of 34-6.
Tournament runs late
The finals session on the second day of Mat Classic XXXI began two hours and 41 minutes later than the prescribed 5 p.m. on the schedule of events released by the Washington State Activities Association (WIAA) before the tournament began Friday.
A key reason for the delay, according to Mark Perry, the athletic director at Snohomish High School and the 2A tournament manager at Mat Classic, was a match protest during the 4A semifinals that required 15 minutes to adjudicate.
The resumption of that match was judged to be a separate contest, and a National Federation of High School Associations rule mandates that those athletes be given 45 minutes of rest between contests, Perry said.
In addition to the 4A delay, just two rounds of consolation matches were wrestled Friday night instead of the scheduled three.
“We knew there was going to be a delay, just mathematically,” Perry said. “How long is unpredictable to say. People saw a lot of quality wrestling here today. Fewer pins, overtimes. It happens.”
The scheduled 2½ hour break between the morning session and the finals session was omitted, which was necessary because the overhaul of the tournament format because of inclement weather — which doubled the number of competitors — had Saturday morning’s action beginning with quarterfinal bouts. Typically, the semifinal matches open the second day of action.
Perry added that the proposed plan to shorten the first period of championship bracket matches from two minutes to one was never implemented, and that the recognition of Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famers (other than this year’s inductees) and the tournament administrators, was removed from the pre-finals program.
Unbeaten Van Scoy stunned in semis
Stanwood junior Riley Van Scoy entered his semifinal match at 160 pounds with Peninsula’s Isaac Casey with a 45-0 record, and 41 of those victories came via pin. Throughout that run, he hadn’t wrestled a match that lasted into the third period, which is a downside to dominance.
Van Scoy’s style is aggressive and powerful and he typically overwhelms opponents early with a head-and-arm throw that leads to many of his pins.
Casey was ready for all of it.
The Seahawks senior matched Van Scoy’s intensity and physicality throughout a 7-1 victory by decision, throwing Van Scoy to his back with a slide-by to cap a first period that ended with Casey up 5-0.
“We knew that our job would be to push the pace and keep moving forward,” Peninsula coach Mark Nickels said. “There’s not a kid out there that’s stronger than Isaac and he doesn’t know how to go at a lower gear.”
Van Scoy opened the match with a head-and-arm attempt that was fought off by Casey, setting the tone for the remainder of the bout. The two began the second period on their feet, and Van Scoy’s failed head-and-arm to start the round was converted into a takedown by Casey for a 7-0 lead.
Van Scoy got an escape late in the second and chose the neutral position to start the third period, looking for a big move to get back into the match. Casey fended off all his attacks for the win.
“Wrestling a match like this, into the third period, it’s a different thought process,” Stanwood coach Ray Mather said. “And we didn’t have that experience. That’s the responsibility that comes with being the hunted. And hats off to the Peninsula kid. He was the hunter, and he was hungry.”
Weaver’s bid for Sultan history foiled
Sultan senior Luke Weaver’s attempt to become the Turks’ first two-time state champion fell short in the semifinals.
Weaver, competing at 126 pounds, lost 9-7 to Deer Park senior Everett Pierce, whose aggressive offense kept the state champ on his heels for most of the match.
Weaver beat Pierce 6-0 in the 120-pound semifinals last year, but was surprised by his game plan in their rematch.
“He actually had a really good shot,” Weaver said. “I thought he would try and keep me down and score points a different way, but he did have a good shot and he saw he could get them on me, so he just kept doing it. Do whatever works. You’ve got to give him credit.”
Weaver bounced back to place third and wrap up his career as a three-time state placer. He finished sixth in 2017.
“I’m still really proud of him,” Sultan coach Garth MacDicken said. “He’s still accomplished great things for our school and set a great example for the other kids in our program. It’s just wrestling.”