TACOMA - Blaine coach Craig Foster said wrestlers and teams often enter Mat Classics with both "expectations and hopes."
Many of the 1A wrestlers' expectations and hopes dissipated Saturday against strong 1A's such as Granger, Quincy, Castle Rock and Zillah.
Blaine's top contenders Caleb Johnson (195 pounds) and Mikey Antczak (235) and Mount Baker's Sterling Honeycutt (220) started the medal rounds Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Tacoma Dome one win away from competing for state titles.
All three lost their bids in a period of roughly 20 minutes.
"There's some mixed emotions," Foster said. "You'd like to see a couple individuals get state titles, but, you know, we lost some close matches and that's the way it goes here."
To Johnson's, Antczak's and Honeycutt's credit, all three battled back and earned high medals.
Johnson placed third, one year after taking fifth, and Antczak placed fourth and Honeycutt placed fifth. Mount Baker's Joey Walton (132) rallied to win two of his three matches Saturday to take fifth, and Blaine's Justin Belding (160) ended his career with an eighth-place medal.
The sting of defeat was particularly tough for Johnson, who entered the Mat Classic as arguably Whatcom County's best bet to take home a state championship.
"If you want to be the best, you got to beat them," said Johnson, who made no excuses for his 8-7 semifinal loss to Granger's Abidan Duarte. "After the match, I asked myself If I wanted it as bad as I thought I did, and I just didn't wrestle as well as I wanted to in that last match."
Johnson's semifinal match was stopped in the first round after he rolled his ankle, but the Blaine senior said his minor injury wasn't the reason he lost.
Johnson won back-to-back matches after the defeat - both by pin - to claim his third-place medal. In fact, he pinned four of the five opponents he wrestled during the two-day tournament.
"You lose your semifinal match and kind of think to yourself, 'Well, why do I want to keep competing?'" Johnson said. "Then you remember you're doing it for your team."
Although Johnson's wrestling career ended, his high school sports career isn't over. He said he struck a deal with teammate Dwayne Ortega, saying that if Ortega wrestled Johnson would play baseball.
"We needed one more heavy guy, and I used to play baseball since I was born, but I quit in high school because wrestling took so much out of me," Johnson explained. "I said, 'If you wrestle, I'll play baseball my senior year,' so I'll be playing baseball for the Borderites this year."
Antczak won then lost after his semifinal defeat, and Honeycutt lost then won after his semifinal.
Walton, on the other hand, went 2-1, capping his tournament with a gritty 3-2 win against Cashmere's Ethan Visser.
"I just made weight, and that was a big key for me, and I stayed on my feet where I'm good at and went from there," said Walton, a Mount Baker junior. "I have a lot of confidence for next year, and I'm excited for next year."
Blaine's final medal-round wrestler, Justin Belding, dropped both his matches Saturday. He was disappointed with his performance, but proud with what he achieved during his final season.
"I definitely don't feel like I finished out like I wanted to," Belding said. "I wish I could re-do some stuff, but I'm happy I scored some team points and was able to place. That was my goal this year - just to place and get a state medal."
Belding's and Johnson's Mat Classic marked the end of a long-standing wrestling relationship between themselves and Foster.
All three have been working together since Belding and Johnson were second graders.
"I'm very proud of them," Foster said. "I have spent so many years with them, and you know what they are all about. You know what they mean to you, your team and you as a person."
Johnson said he won't know what to do with himself next winter.
"Every winter I spend every weekend and every afternoon with Justin and coach," Johnson said. "It's bittersweet. I've been doing it for 12 years, and it's like I don't know what I am going to do now that's it's over. The way we ended it was definitely a good way to go out. I'm proud of our entire team, and the way Justin wrestled."
LYNDEN SENIORS GO OUT FIGHTING
Mat Classic XXV was largely disappointing for Class 2A Whatcom County schools. Lynden was the one exception.
After advancing three out of four wrestlers to Saturday's medal rounds, Lynden, which was the lone 2A school to advance any wrestlers to day two, kept its momentum going.
Caleb Newman embodied the fighting spirit the most.
Following a second-round loss Friday to Bremerton's Rusty Hoffman, Newman won four straight matches, including three Saturday all by way of pin.
The Lynden senior, who only began wrestling his sophomore year, earned a third-place medal by getting a bit of redemption. Newman got another shot to beat Hoffman and pinned him in 1 minute, 38 seconds.
"Caleb did not have a good match that second match," Lynden coach Randy Anderson said. "Once we got him onto day two he said, 'You know what, I'm going for it. I'm going to get third place,' and he did. He pinned all of his guys today."
Newman, who admitted wrestling is the toughest challenge he's ever faced, said there was no better way to conclude his wrestling career.
"All the work I've put in is paying off right now," Newman said. "It's wonderful. I couldn't ask for a better ending. Last night I told myself this is the last day I'm going to wrestle, and I got to leave it all out there, because I have nothing to lose. I made sure I gave it my all."
Nick Iaconetti (126 pounds) and Ryan Meggison (170) also capped their careers with state medals.
Iaconetti finished Saturday with a 1-2 record and was 3-3 for the tournament.
He earned a great come-from-behind win against Sultan's James Mackenzie to start the day, but finished with two losses to take sixth place in his first Mat Classic.
"I feel better than I ever thought I would coming into the tournament, but there was so much expectation and not enough to go along with it," Iaconetti said.
The 126 pounder was hoping for a stronger finish, but he was thrilled with how the Lions represented themselves.
"That feels so good. I can't even explain how good that is," said Iaconetti of Lynden being Whatcom County's only 2A team to send wrestlers to day two. "I'm so proud of how far our team has gotten, especially because the other two guys didn't even wrestle with us since freshman year. Caleb joined his sophomore year, and Meggison moved from Sehome. Everyone has come so far."
Meggison lost both his matches Saturday on fairly close decisions. He dropped his first bout 12-7 to Port Angeles' Brian Christion and lost his seventh- or eighth-place match 7-3 to Ephrata's Tevin Hiatt.
"It wasn't that great, really," said a disappointed Meggison shortly after his loss. "I feel like I could have done better, but you have your off days. It happens."
Anderson was extremely pleased with all three of his seniors, saying they've set a standard up-and-coming Lions can follow in years to come.
"Just to get to this day last night was huge," Anderson said. "I really expected Caleb to finish where he was at, and I think Nick and Ryan were right in the mix where they should have been based on what the state's got out there. I mean, this is such a tough tournament. We're super excited for our guys. We're sorry to see them go, but they started something really good with the Lynden program."
KAM WILLIAMS EXITS EARLY WITH INJURY
Ferndale senior wrestler Kam Williams was the reason the Golden Eagles were represented during Mat Classic XXV's medal rounds Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Tacoma Dome.
The 220 pounder was the only Ferndale wrestler left standing out of nine Golden Eagles who ended their state tournament Friday, Feb. 15.
Williams started day two with dreams of reaching the state title match and possibly winning a championship, but his day ended abruptly when he went down with a scary injury during his bout for a fifth-place medal.
Williams dropped his first two matches, but appeared in good shape to win a fifth-place medal when the heated match took a back seat to Williams' health.
Ferndale wresting coach Caleb Schlak said in a phone interview Williams lost his breath and sustained some type of mild seizure.
"He's fine," Schlak said. "He got squeezed too hard and lost his breath and kind of had a seizure, but I guess it's a fairly normal thing to happen. He is okay and went home with his family."
Tacoma Dome medical staff quickly ran to Williams' aid. After several minutes sitting up on the mat, Williams rose to his feet and was wheeled off the Tacoma Dome floor in a mobile stretcher. Those in attendance gave Williams an ovation as he exited.
It was a tough way to end a strong tournament.
"With an exception to his first match, I thought he had a great tournament," Schlak said. "He kept battling back. He's bummed because he thought he let his team down, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm really proud of him."
Williams finished the tournament with a 2-3 record and earned a sixth-place medal after not qualifying for day two last year.
GARDNER, NOOKSACK VALLEY KEEPS IMPROVING
Nooksack Valley 137 pound state-title hopefully Chloe Gardner had something to prove after she lost her semifinal match 6-2 against Kelso's Colleen Reynolds.
She put the pain of her loss on her next two opponents.
Gardner pinned Rochester's Jamilah Ahmath and Lakes' Juliana Trujillo following her loss in a total of 2:29 to claim her third-place medal.
She improved one spot on her fourth-place finish last year.
"That is awesome," said Gardner of her placing. "I am so proud of myself, and my hard work is paying off a little bit at a time. I only had two more matches after my loss, so I figured I my as well give it all I got."
Only 33 seconds past before Gardner won her fourth- or third-place match. She hardly broke a sweat.
"I want people to notice me, you know, college and stuff, so I took it to 'em," Gardner said with a grin. "I am very excited (for next year). I am going to work a little bit harder and get to where I want."
Teammate Kylee Dekoekkoek (145) also improved this season and showed heaps of promise for her senior season.
Dekoekkoek finished in eighth place, dropping both her matches Saturday, but she is a key piece to Nooksack Valley's promising girls' wrestling future.
"It's great, and especially for her because she has another year," said Gardner of Dekoekkoek. "She was able to participate this year and will kick booty next year."
Mount Baker, which entered Saturday second in points and had five wrestlers advance to semifinal matches, wasn't able to compile enough wins to vie for a team title, but several individuals earned top finishes.
Megan Young (130), Jessica Mata (124), and Akemi Schwinden (235) each took home fourth-place medals, while freshman Natalie Smith settled for an eighth-place medal.
"It feels so good," Smith said. "I tried really hard. I would be upset if I didn't try and got sixth place or something, but I tried really hard, and I got the place I got. Hopefully next year I get better."
After losing her semifinal match, Mata pinned Mabton's Jazmin Mendoza in 2:25 before losing her third- or fourth-place match.
Young grinded out a 7-5 overtime win against Washougal's Erin Locke after dropping her semifinal match. She lost 16-11 in her final bout.
Schwinden, a freshman, proved how bright her future is with a 10-0 win against Lynden's Lisa Hernandez after her semifinal loss.
Hernandez (235) was one of two Lions to earn medals. She finished in sixth place, and teammate Thalia Veliz (170) brought home an eighth-place medal.
"They did really good," said Lynden coach Santos Gallegos of his duo. "They are beginners. Veliz had one year under her belt from junior high, and this is Lisa's first year. Lisa came out with a positive attitude. She came into the wrestling room and said, 'Hey coach, I'm going to there,' and she is here."
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.