The third period ended. Mount Baker's Aysha Schwinden peeled her back off the gray wrestling mat that rested on the Tacoma Dome's cold concrete floor. A rush of emotion swept over her. She knew she had just won a state title.
Schwinden had yearned for over a year to get another chance to beat Centralia's Ryan Gibbons. She finally had earned sweet redemption.
Then reality set in. Schwinden hadn't won yet.
"I was getting up, and I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I won,'" Schwinden recalled.
A realized dream changed to nightmarish frustration moments later. Schwinden's bid to win a state title, for the second year in a row, was dashed by Gibbons. This time the sting was deeper, as Schwinden lost 11-9 during overtime of the 190-pound championship match at Mat Classic XXV.
Gibbons made up a four-point deficit in the final 10 seconds of the third period with a takedown and a near fall. Schwinden's rival somehow tied the match, sending it to overtime. Thirty seconds later, the Mount Baker senior fell victim to a sudden-death takedown, lifted her back off the wrestling mat once more and had to watch Gibbons walk away with the title Schwinden, and the rest of the Mount Baker girls' wrestling team, thought she had won in regulation.
Baker coach Clyde Blockley cried foul. Schwinden's fellow Mountaineers did, too. They thought the referee's questionable calls cost their senior a state title.
Schwinden, as ultra competitive as she is, had wanted to beat Gibbons at state ever since she lost to the Centralia product during Mat Classic XXIV's 195-pound semifinal. Schwinden couldn't quite get it done, but reaching the pinnacle of prep wrestling with two years of experience is an amazing accomplishment itself.
Schwinden has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Wrestler of the Year, while Blockley, who guided Baker to a second-place finish at state, has been selected Coach of the Year.
"I'm definitely happy with how my season was," Schwinden said. "It's still a little tough knowing I was so close to being the best at my weight. It kind of stings, but when I look at the big picture, it's OK."
Unbelievably, Schwinden never wrestled before her junior year. Assistant coach Joe Amarando saw her potential and persuaded her to try out.
"All my friends my sophomore year had done it, and they loved it," Schwinden said. "Coach Amarando, he was begging me to try it, so I just figured it couldn't hurt."
Schwinden placed fourth at state last year. She compiled 29 wins this year and had the same number of losses as years she's wrestled: two. Twenty-two of those wins were pins.
"She was 53-12 in two years," Blockley said. "That's pretty impressive."
Impressive indeed. The eight tournament titles she stockpiled this year isn't too bad either.
So how does an athlete -- with no wrestling experience -- in two years dominate like Schwinden did?
One word: confidence. Schwinden admitted she's lacked it in the past. Blockley saw Schwinden as a bashful girl on the mat who was hesitant to go on the offensive when she first started wrestling. That all changed late in her junior year.
"The first meet before the Northwest Conference Tournament, she was just trying not to lose," Blockley explained. "After she won Northwest Conference, she kind of kicked it up a notch."
Schwinden couldn't point to a certain time her confidence boost kicked in, but she said belief in herself has helped her become a standout wrestler.
"This year I used some more moves, but the biggest part was the coaches pushing me to be more confident," she said. "When I started winning tournaments, I said, 'OK, maybe I can actually do something.'"
Winning a second-place medal, a second-place team trophy and more than half a dozen tournaments isn't the only reason Schwinden's senior season was special.
Freshman Akemi Schwinden, Aysha's younger sister, wrestled for Baker, too.
"It definitely brought us a lot closer, and I think it helped us with our wrestling season," Aysha said. "We each had each other's back and were there for support the whole season."
Blockley said Schwinden didn't follow a special formula to become as good as she is so quickly. He credited her fast rise to work ethic and dedication.
"She just worked hard everyday in the room," he said. "Everyday in the room, she wrestled coaches. She really started to believe in herself. (All the accolades) and stuff, that carries over to the young kids."
Schwinden said she's received a few offers to wrestle collegiately but hasn't yet made a decision on her future.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.