By Andrew Lang and Brian Adamowsky
TACOMA — Ultimate preparedness is what Oak Harbor heavyweight Sam Zook claimed as the key to his run through the Class 4A 285-pound Mat Classic XXIX bracket.
“Lots of mental prep,” he said. “We are coming before every match and watching the kids we are going to go against. We are watching who they wrestled, how they wrestled them, what he did on his feet, what he did on bottom …”
Zook listed several more ways the Wildcats diagnose opponents, but this being the fourth time he met up with fellow Wesco 4A Arlington wrestler Tristan Emery this winter, the Oak Harbor junior had Emery figured out.
That showed in a big way during Mat Classic XXIX’s nightcap Saturday at the Tacoma Dome, as Zook pinned Emery in 2:47 to claim an individual state title.
“I think it means more for the Oak Harbor program than for me,” Zook said of his win, “because it shows everyone else (you can overcome anything). I was 310 pounds as a freshman. Now I’m 250 if I’m lucky.”
The win came after Zook said he was a year removed from being the team’s third string heavyweight.
He wasn’t the only wrestler in the match with an impressive turnaround. In Emery’s first state berth, he capitalized on the opportunity by making an impressive run to a second-place medal.
“It’s almost a dream come true,” Emery said. “Of course the dream is to win, but I did better than expected. I think I did better than what anyone expected.”
Lawrence keeps Vikings’ streak alive
With 30 seconds left in the first period of Lake Stevens 170-pounder Malachi Lawrence’s state title match, the junior got a hold of Curtis wrestler Alex Stuart’s legs, lifted him up and dropped him with a punishing impact to the mat.
Although that only gave Lawrence an early 2-0 advantage, the message had been sent. Lawrence wasn’t going to be denied.
“I knew I needed to come out and be dominant on my feet, which I was,” Lawrence said. “And I knew the second I took him down that would be the match. That first takedown is huge.”
It certainly proved to be in what was the biggest match of Lawrence’s career.
The 170-pounder overwhelmed Stuart with physicality and earned an impressive 10-4 decision Saturday night at the Tacoma Dome, earning him an individual state title one year after placing third at the state tournament. He also helped the Vikings maintain one of the state’s most impressive streaks.
“We have had a state champion every year for the last 21 years,” Lawrence said, “and I knew I was going to be the one who was going to keep it alive this year.”
Burtenshaw adds to family legacy
If six wasn’t impressive enough, Darrington 160-pound junior Gage Burtenshaw added a seventh.
Bill West became the first Darrington Logger to ever win a wrestling state title. He did so in 1973. His son and current assistant coach Andy West, who was previously head coach at Darrington, won two. Andy West’s step son, Mason McKenzie, won his third consecutive state title last year at 220 pounds. Finally the end of a wrestling family legacy?
Not so much.
Burtenshaw, Andy West’s nephew, capped an impressive Mat Classic XXIX with a Class 1B/2B 160-pound individual state title by beating Wilbur-Creston’s Joe Peasley 10-2.
“I’ve been wrestling my whole life, and I’ve never done anything like that, not ever,” Burtenshaw said.
The win could have arguably come as a surprise given Burtenshaw’s state tournament history. He went 0-2 his freshman year and then lost his first match as a sophomore before breaking his ankle during his second match. But after losing a regional match last weekend, he got a boost of confidence earlier this week from someone who had been in his shoes before.
“Uncle (Andy West) came over on Monday and said, ‘I went through the same thing my junior year, and same with papa,’” Burtenshaw said. “I think that is what changed my whole perspective.”
De la Cruz makes school history
Two years ago Kamiak’s Ally de la Cruz was a freshman and the lone girl on the Knights’ wrestling team.
After a third-place state finish as a freshman and a second-place finish last season, the 155-pound De la Cruz accomplished something Saturday night at Mat Classic XXIX no other Knights wrestler has ever achieved.
With a second-round pin over Sequim’s Alma Mendoza in 3:35, De la Cruz became the first in program history to win a state title.
“It means the world to me,” de la Cruz said. “This is what I’ve been working for. I placed third my freshman year, second last year and I got one more spot.”
De la Cruz put together a dominant weekend of wrestling. She opening with back-to-back pins in the round of 16 and quarterfinals before earning a 10-4 decision in the semifinals. Her championship with over Mendoza improved her season record to 36-0.
Despite winning three straight regional championships, a state championship eluded de la Cruz her first two years, but with a new sense of confidence she flourished during her third trip to the dome.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Kamiak coach Bryan Stelling, who started coaching de la Cruz in seventh grade, “and she’s broken so many team records. She’s only a junior, and I can’t believe we get her another year. She’s super tough, tough as they come.” The boys in eighth grade voted her team captain, and she’s been a team captain on our whole varsity team for two years now.”
De la Cruz showed that toughness against Mendoza. She earned a first-period takedown and in the second round got Mendoza to her back and held her there for at least 20 seconds before the referee credited de la Cruz with a pin and a state championship.
Sultan fathers and sons
Sultan seniors Jamell Carroll II and Tanner Belcher each won his first state championship in the span of about 45 minutes Saturday, but those triumphant moments were amplified when the first person each wrestler hugged after having his hand raised was his father.
Jamell Carroll Sr. and Dan Belcher are both assistants to Garth MacDicken with the Turks, and each was a very proud papa Saturday night.
“It’s a little more special when it’s your own kid in the middle of the mat,” Dan Belcher said.
Carroll and Belcher’s victories, along with Morgan Yates’ run to the finals and Luke Weaver’s sixth-place finish, powered the Turks to a fourth-place finish in the team standings.
Sultan ended up a half point behind Deer Park, but took home the program’s first state trophy since 1973.
Carroll (170) and Belcher (182) also represented the first Sultan individual champions since 2003, and the first time the program has ever had multiple state champs at the same tournament.