BELLINGHAM - When Emily Gallegos saw her grandmother enter the gym to see her wrestle for the first time, the 100-pound Lynden freshman said she received an unexpected jolt of "adrenaline, inspiration and motivation" and whatever else she needed.
The result: Gallegos, who placed third in the sub-regional a week earlier, scored a pin in 59 seconds to become one of six champions from Whatcom County in the Northwest District Girls' Regional, earning a state tournament spot as well as her first tournament title of the season.
The depth-laden Mount Baker team, meanwhile, displayed plenty of everything while earning 10 spots at state, known as Mat Classic, to give the regional champion Mountaineers a shot at moving up from last year's runner-up state finish (the girls' tournament is all one class for now).
In all, of the 27 Whatcom County girls who qualified for the regional, a remarkable 19 survived to earn spots at state with finishes in the first four, including six champions, five runners-up, five in third place and three in fourth place on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Bellingham High School.
Mount Baker claimed the team title with an overwhelming 206 points, more than the combined 190 by second-place Mount Vernon (97) and third-place Sedro-Woolley (90). Nooksack Valley finished fourth with 89 and Lynden fifth with 70.
All of Whatcom County's six champions produced dominant showings. Gallegos, Blaine junior Olivia Adams (130), Nooksack senior Chloe Gardner (145) and Sehome junior Lisa Hernandez (235) pinned all three of their opponents. Baker sophomore Natalie Smith (118) had two pins and an 18-2 technical fall in the final, which is like a pin.
In the other title match won by a local, Baker's Nicole Boardman and fellow senior teammate Heidi Chambers took two pins apiece going into the 124-pound final, but Boardman won on an injury default, since nobody wanted to take an unnecessary chance against a teammate.
Gallegos, the daughter of Lynden coach Santos Gallegos, may have set a district record for post-match hugs, sharing more than two dozen embraces with family, teammates, coaches friends and other wrestlers.
Her parents proudly pointed out that Gallegos became the first Lynden wrestler in the five-year history of the girls' program to claim a regional title.
"A lot of people from other schools had doubts about me," said Gallegos, who pinned Sedro-Woolley sophomore Terecita Shanes in the final. "This is just an overwhelming feeling. I felt so good when my grandmother, Maria Gallegos, who has had health problems, came into the gym. I wasn't expecting to see her."
The little Lynden powerhouse also said other family members motivated her.
"My uncle and my older sister wrestled well but they didn't make it to state when they were freshmen," said Gallegos. "I wanted to be the first in our family to do that."
Gallegos said if she doesn't make it the podium at Mat Classic, "I'm going to work my butt off in the next three years to get there."
Gardner, who finished third at state as a junior and fourth as a sophomore, has scored nine pins in as many matches to win three post-season tournaments as a senior. But she isn't putting pressure on herself.
"I'm going there (the Tacoma Dome) to have fun," said Gardner, who pinned Stanwood senior Brooke Dogget at 1:47 of the 145-pound final. "I just want to make as many great memories as I can. I've learned so many of my moves from my brother Taylor (a Nooksack junior). I really appreciate him. We wrestle all the time."
Baker coach Clyde Blockley saw his team perhaps surpass expectations.
"My lowball was seven (state qualifiers)," said Blockley, who saw 10 qualifiers in nine different weights - a sensational showing, to say the least. "But with 10 state qualifiers, I'm excited."
Blaine's Adams, who has lost only two matches all season, pinned Baker senior Sylvia Lynch in 3:09 after Lynch came into the final with two pins on the best day of her career.
"I'm hoping to make the finals at state," said Adams, who went 1-2 last year there. "I'm always wanting to do better every time out."
Hernandez, who placed sixth at state last year as a sophomore for Lynden, is now a Sehome student who wrestles for Bellingham's co-op team. She rallied to pin Highline's Sophia Munoz in 4:19 after falling behind 2-1.
She showed how popular she has become when her coaches and teammates mobbed her and lifted her skyward.
"My goal is the podium, and I think I can pull it off," Hernandez said, "even though there is a lot of good competition (at 235)."
In another noteworthy title match, Lynden senior Alex Parson lost 4-0 at 112 pounds for the second week in a row to Granite Falls senior Danielle Crawford, who came in with a black eye Parson accidentally gave her last week (the two are friends).
It was a courageous effort for Parson, who gutted out the last 26 seconds with a shoulder injury for which a timeout had to be called against Crawford, who is among the state title favorites.
"I'm pretty sore," said Parson, "but I'll be ready for state, for sure. I like wrestling Danielle; she's a very strong challenge. I get to test how far I can go and how much I've improved."
Like all the Baker girls and coaches, Smith isn't one to rattle off exact statistics.
"I have four losses and something like 38 wins," said Smith, who scored her 18-2 technical fall in the final against Skyline freshman Addie Mejia. "I feel pretty good about today."
In addition to Parson, Lynch and Chambers, other Whatcom County second-place finishers were Lynden sophomore Thalia Veliz at 170 and Baker sophomore Aniecea Camacho at 155.
Local third places went to Baker sophomore Lacey Postelwait (100), Baker junior Jessica Mata (137), Nooksack senior Kylee Dekoekkoek (155), and Baker sophomores Jordan Horsman (170) and Akemi Schwinden (235).
Fourth-place local state qualifers were Lynden senior Gabriela Herrera (124), Baker sophomore Rachel Nichols (145) and Nooksack junior Kaleiolani Jefferson (190).
NORTHWEST DISTRICT REGIONAL
Team scores: Mount Baker 206, Mount Vernon 93, Sedro-Woolley 90, Nooksack Valley 89, Lynden 70, Lakewood 56.5, Burlington-Edison 54, Stanwood 28, Lindbergh 27, Anacortes 26, Blaine 26, Highline 26, Hazen 26, Oak Harbor 24, Meadowdale 24, Granite Falls 22, Liberty 20, Darrington 20, Skyline 20, Concrete 18, La Conner 18, Mountlake Terrace 13, Evergreen 12, Snohomish 8, Arlington 7.5, Bellingham 7, Cascade 6, Chief Sealth 6, Lake Washington 3. Sehome also scored points but was not listed on official results.
Championship matches: 100: Emily Gallegos (Lynden) p. Teracita Shanes (Sedro-Woolley) 0:59; 106: Brenda Reyna (Mount Vernon) d. Elesha Forrest (Darrington) 4-0; 112: Danielle Crawford (Granite Falls) d. Alex Parson (Nooksack) 4-0; 118: Natalie Smith (Mount Baker) d. Addie Mejia (Skyline) 18-2; 124: Nicole Boardman (Mount Baker) by injury default over Heidi Chambers (Mount Baker); 130: Olivia Adams (Blaine) p. Sylvia Lynch (Mount Baker) 3:09; 137: Joanna Moreira (Liberty) d. Taylor Dawson (Sedro-Woolley( 7-4; 145: Chloe Gardner (Nooksack) p. Brooke Dogget (Stanwood) 1:47; 155: Raven Svenson (Hazen) p. Aniecea Camacho (Mount Baker) 4:45; 170: Delisha Hodges (Burlington) p. Thalia Veliz (Lynden) 2:37; 190: Dee Dee Free (Meadowdale) d. Frances Ziemantz (La Conner) 7-5; 235: Lisa Hernandez (Sehome) p. Sophia Munoz (Highline) 4:19.
Olivia Adams 230
Emily Gallegos 100
Gabriela Herrera 124
Thalia Veliz 170
MOUNT BAKER Wt.
Lacey Postelwait 100
Natalie Smith 118
Nicole Boardman 124
Heidi Chambers 124
Sylvia Lynch 130
Jessica Mata 137
Rachel Nichols 145
Aniecea Camacho 155
Jordan Horsman 170
NOOKSACK VALLEY Wt.
Alex Parson 112
Chloe Gardner 145
Kylee Dekoekkoek 155
Kaleiolani Jefferson 190
Lisa Hernandez 235