BELLINGHAM - It was deceiving at first reference calling the match between Blaine's Olivia Adams and Nooksack Valley's Chloe Gardner an exhibition.
The two girls - who both competed at the state championships last year, with Gardner placing third in the 137-pound weight class - stand as premier wrestlers in the Northwest Conference, rarely facing competition equal in talent and skill.
On Wednesday, Dec. 11, at Bellingham High School, the two finally faced, albeit with nothing on the line other than pride. Pride, sometimes, is enough.
Gardner pinned Adams with 54 seconds remaining in the third period. At the time the two were tied 10-10 in points, and it was the first time this season an opposing wrestler had made it past the first period against the Nooksack Valley product.
"It was just the will to win," Gardner said. "She was really great and she was really strong, so beating her was hard, but I don't like to lose."
Although Gardner's match had no bearing in the dual meet between Nooksack Valley and Bellingham, which the Pioneers won 36-18, it did provide a much-needed early season test for the senior with championship aspirations.
Adams scored an early throw in the first 30 seconds of the first period, placing Gardner on her back for the first time in the young season.
"She's known for being really well, so I was trying to prove myself," Adams said.
The two traded points, with Adams recording another throw early in the second and Gardner countering with an escape of a takedown of her own, leading the two to enter the third tied at 10-10. Gardner's physicality, though, got Adams in poor position on the mat and the senior waited her out until she could register the pin.
"I know when we go to tournaments and stuff, all the girls from our weight class are out watching her because they're all scared of her," Gardner said. "It was great to finally get to wrestle her."
The Pioneers as a squad managed several early dominating showings en route to the win over a Bellingham squad comprised of several wrestlers form both Bellingham and Squalicum High School. Of the strong performances, both Maria Cazares and Kylee Dekoekkoek made quick work of their respective opponents, earning first-round pins.
Nooksack's Stephany Avila and Squalicum's Jamie Keller made for a physical, tenacious battle, with Keller pulling out a pin late in the third period.
"She held her own, and she was really strong," Keller said. "She started a lot weaker than at the end."
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports news.
NOOKSACK VALLEY 36, BELLINGHAM 18
100: Maria Cazares (NV) def. Jasmine Cuellar (Bellingham) pin. 106: Yazmin SanJuan (NV) win by forfeit. 118: Delaney Cop (NV) def. Laura Newman (Squalicum) pin. 130: Sydney King (Bellingham) wins by forfeit. 137: Chloe Gardner (NV) wins by forfeit. 145: Jamie Keller (Squalicum) def. Stephany Avila (NV) pin. 155: Kylee Dekoekkoek (NV) def. N/A by pin. 190: Jojo Willoughby (Squalicum) wins by forfeit. 235: Ashley Loreen (NV) wins by forfeit.