LYNDEN - Nooksack Valley senior Alex Parson fell a few points shy of a gold medal in the first Pride of the Lady Lions Invitational, but that didn't stop her from feeling as good as gold.
Eight months after sustaining a serious knee injury while long jumping, she won three consecutive matches in decisive fashion before falling in the 124-pound finals on Saturday, Dec. 21, in the largest regular-season girls' wrestling tournament in Whatcom County history.
Parson trailed Concrete's Anjelika Koening 11-7 when the match was halted with nine seconds remaining, just as a safety precaution.
"Somehow I developed a tenacity after my surgery," said Parson, who shared an emotional hug and smiles with her dad, Nooksack Valley coach Chad Parson, after her long day ended. "It was raining, the sand was packed in the pit, and on my last jump, I tore my ACL and meniscus and fractured my tibia. But over the summer I worked every day on rehabilitating my knee.
"I made a sign reading, 'I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.' I read that sign every day."
How successful has she been?
After recently overcoming a few nerves and learning she could go all out during three losses in the Foss Tournament last week, Parson prevailed before a large gathering in the Lynden gym in her first three matches, taking 9-1 and 11-2 decisions sandwiched around a pin.
Parson typified the spirit of an outstanding day for Whatcom County teams in the tournament, to which 22 schools sent wrestlers among the nearly 150 girls who competed.
Mount Baker scored 24 pins and placed eight girls while winning the title over Washougal, 175.5 points to 151.5. Nooksack Valley took third with 124 and Lynden placed fourth with 84, two more points than Burlington-Edison.
"I was really surprised to see what a big tournament this was," said two-state meet participant Olivia Adams, a Blaine junior who pinned Mount Baker's Jessica Mata with 21 seconds remaining for the 130-pound title, the only match with two county finalists. "I really like this. I was excited to see just how big it was."
Lynden coach Santos Gallegos, who recruited an army of student and adult volunteers, said this is only the beginning.
"We want to make this tournament the girls' version of Blaine's (prestigious) Battle at the Border Tournament," said Gallegos.
"So far, so good," said Adams, referring to her drive toward qualifying for her second consecutive state tournament, including three in wrestling to go with two in track and field. The defending Class 1A state champion in the pole vault, she said she would love to win a medal in her other sport while hoping to earn eight state appearances in the two sports by the time she graduates.
"I don't know if it's realistic to think about winning state titles in two (different individual) sports, but I sure hope that can happen," said Adams, who was even spunky enough to take on two boys in the Battle at the Border Tournament. "There's an awful lot of good wrestlers in the 130-pound division."
Mount Baker had three of the county's five champions.
"We wrestled real well, especially considering this was our first real tournament," said Baker coach Clyde Blockley. "We were about as good as I expected. We're not great yet - we have a long way to go."
Baker's gritty, aggressive Natalie Smith won the 118-pound division with a 17-2 victory over Burlington's Hannah Holmes, following Smith's wins by 12-0 and pin. Holmes was no easy opponent, having taken her first two matches by pin.
At 170 pounds, Baker's Aniecea Camacho enjoyed one of the most dominant days of any wrestler, going three for three in pins including a second-period fall in the finals against Kalama's Dakota Moon, who also came in to the title match with two pins.
Akemi Schwinden, a sophomore, took the 235-pound division, which turned into a five-girl round-robin because of a lack of entrants. Schwinden had three consecutive first-round pins and then won by injury default.
Schwinden placed fourth at 1A state as a freshman while sister Aysha took second as a senior.
"Aysha's now wrestling at Southwestern Oregon Community College," said Akemi, who was inspired to take up wrestling by her sister and other friends and now hopes to qualify for this year's state championship match.
The 137-pound division was so large that it was split for the 137-pound class, with 20 girls, and the 137B division, with seven girls. Lynden's Kali Spady had pins in both her matches to take the 137B.
In the huge 137-pound class, Nooksack Valley's Chloe Gardner scored two falls to qualify for the finals against Washougal's Erin Locke, who beat Gardner 12-1 for the gold.
Gardner's fellow Nooksack senior standout, Kylee DeKoekkoek, also had a dominant day until the finals. She claimed three consecutive 155-pound first-round pins, but Washougal's Abby Lee's decisioned Dekoekkoek 21-8 in a wild title match.
Other second-place medalists included Nooksack Valley's Maria Cazares (100), Mount Baker's Rachel Nichols (145), Lynden's Thalia Veliz (190) and Nooksack's Kaleiolani Jefferson (235). Nichols scored three pins and Veliz had two.
Nobody may have felt more privileged to wrestle, however, than Alex Parson, who said she has been inspired to look into surgery as a career in the wake of her knee surgery.
"I think the biggest thing in my recovery has been always keeping a positive mindset," the personable Nooksack Valley senior said. "Now I want to be able to wrestle 118 at state. I came in today (just a little over 118). Now I want to be on the podium with teammates (such as fellow seniors Gardner and DeKoekkoek)."
At the rate she's going, the girl who endured surgery only seven months ago might now be able to carve up her share of opponents along the way.
PRIDE OF THE LADY LIONS INVITATIONAL
Team scores: Mount Baker 175.5, Washougal 151.5, Nooksack Valley 124, Lynden 84, Burlington-Edison 82, Lakewood 58.5, Stanwood 41.5, Kalama 40.5, Mount Baker JV 39.5, Sedro-Woolley 38, Forks 36, Darrington 34, Concrete 27.5, Blaine 24, Squalicum 17.5, Lakeside 17, Nooksack Valley JV 16.5, Mountain View 14.5, Anacortes 10, Bellingham 8, Burlington-Edison C 7, Burlington-Edison JV 6, Friday Harbor 6, Ingraham 3, Sehome 0.
Championship matches: 100 -- (became five-girl round-robin): 1. Yaneli Martinez (Washougal), 2. Maria Cazares (Nooksack Valley); 106 -- Tristen Williams (Forks) d. Katie Kortacass (Lakewood) 8-0; 112 -- Elisa Forrest (Darrington) d. Tommie Mosteller (Lakewood) 12-10; 118 -- Natalie Smith (Mount Baker) . Hannah Holmes (Burlington) 17-2; 124 -- Anjelika Koening (Concrete) d. Alex Parson (Nooksack Valley) third-round injury default; 130 -- Olivia Adams (Blaine) p. Jessica Mata (Mount Baker); 137 -- Erin Locke (Washougal) d. Chloe Gardner (Nooksack Valley) 12-1; 137B -- Kali Spady (Lynden) p. Katelyn Berrey (Sedro-Woolley); 145 -- Brooke Doggett (Stanwood) p. Rachel Nichols (Mount Baker); 155 -- Abby Lees (Washougal) d. Kylee DeKoekkoek (Nooksack Valley) 21-8; 170 -- Aniecea Camacho (Mount Baker) p. Dakota Moon (Kalama); 190 -- Dellisha Hodges (Burlington-Edison) p. Thalia Veliz (Lynden); 235 (became five-girl round-robin): 1. Akemi Schwinden (Mount Baker), 2. Kaleiolani Jefferson (Nooksack Valley).