TACOMA - The Mount Baker girls' wrestling team provided a silver lining during a Mat Classic that failed to produce a Whatcom County state champion.
Mountaineers Aysha Schwinden, Megan Young, Akemi Schwinden, Jessica Mata and Natalie Smith all medaled to help Mount Baker place second in a field of 104 girls' wrestling teams.
"We wrestled our (butt) off to get second place," Mount Baker girls' coach Clyde Blockley said. "At the beginning of the year, I thought we'd be right up there, and in the middle of the year I had my doubts. These girls wrestled hard all weekend. They wrestled the tournament of their life."
Schwinden was seconds away from giving Whatcom County a state champion, but a questionable call sent her match into overtime where she lost 11-9 in her 190-pound title bout Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Tacoma Dome during Mat Classic XXV.
"It means a lot," Schwinden said of her second-place finish, "but it still kind of sucks I wasn't first. I have a lot to be proud of."
Young, Mata and Akemi each took home fourth-place medals, while Smith earned an eighth-place medal.
"It means so much," said Young of Mount Baker's second-place finish. "These girls mean the world to me. They are my family, and all of them are my best friends. I love them all so much. It means so much to be with them, and I know I will never have this opportunity again with this group of girls. We could have never been able to do this without our coaches."
Mata, who was a state alternate last year, showed great improvement with her fourth-place medal, and Akemi and Smith, both freshmen, paint a bright future for the Mountaineers.
"We are all really, really happy," Mata said. "I would never want to have another team than Baker. ... (My place) gives me a lot of confidence, because I know I believe in myself, and next time I'll believe in myself more so I can get first place."
Mount Baker's Tyrel Cronk highlighted the boys' tournament with his impressive run to his 182-pound bracket championship bout.
Cronk lost to defending state champion Cruz Del Angel of Kiona-Benton 8-3, but Cronk was not only the only opponent not to get pinned by Del, he was the only opponent not to get pinned in the first period.
"He didn't sit back," Mount Baker coach Ron Lepper said of Cronk. "He came out and tried to wrestle, and that kid is very good, but Tyrel just battled. As time will go on, he'll look back on the accomplishment of getting to the state finals. That's pretty special."
Cronk was one of three Mountaineers to earn state medals. Both Joey Walton and senior Sterling Honeycutt took fifth-place medals back to Deming.
Blaine also represented itself well, despite a few disappointments. One of Whatcom County's favorites to win a state title, Caleb Johnson lost a heartbreaking 8-7 decision in his semifinal match, and Mikey Antczak, who also reached the semis, wasn't able to advance to the title round.
Johnson finished with a third-place medal - an improvement on last year's fifth-place finish, Antczak took fourth and Justin Belding took eighth.
The trio as well as the school record nine Blaine wrestlers who won matches helped the Borderites earn 56 points - good enough for an eighth-place finish.
"There's some mixed emotions," Blaine coach Craig 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."
Lynden was the story of the tournament in regard to Class 2A Whatcom County schools. The Lions were the only team out of Bellingham, Squalicum and Sehome to advance wrestlers to day two's medal rounds.
Caleb Newman battled back from an early day one setback to earn three pins Saturday and a third-place medal, Nick Iaconetti took sixth in his first year at the Mat Classic, and Ryan Meggison finished his career with a solid eighth-place finish.
It was a great sendoff for Lynden's standout seniors.
"I think it was great," Newman said. "We've been trying to build this program up. We've been getting lots of people who are motivated. Jeremy Korthuis was a huge inspiration last year watching him win, so it really shows the kids from Lynden it's not all about basketball. We can wrestle, too."
Nooksack Valley girls' wrestlers Chloe Gardner and Kylee Dekoekkoek showed the Pioneers have a lot to look forward to in the future.
Gardner won her last two matches Saturday after losing in the semifinals to claim a third-place medal, and Dekoekkoek took eighth place after missing out on last year's Mat Classic due to a broken collarbone.
"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 may as well give it all I got."
Lynden girls' wrestlers Lisa Hernandez and Thalia Veliz excited coach Santos Gallegos with their weekend performances.
Veliz finished with an eighth-place medal and Hernandez took sixth.
"They did really good," said 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."
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