Hours after Blaine freshman wrestler Colton Economy won himself a Mat Classic XXVI berth at regionals, his fight to compete at the Tacoma Dome began.
In all of Blaine coach Craig Foster's 23 years leading the Borderites, never has he witnessed a team employ a never-say-die, fighting attitude like this year's club. And Economy's fight to live out what his three months of dedication produced exemplifies Blaine's will to win in so many ways.
The 14 Borderites wrestling at the Mat Classic on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22, represent the largest group Foster has ever sent. It's also one of the most unique.
"I have never seen that fighting spirit across the board, never say die, refuse to lose, don't quit kind of spirit among all the guys," Foster said. "That always used to be a big deal ... having to worry about a wrestler bailing on you. This team doesn't have that. To me, that's when great things can happen."
Economy sat off to the side as Foster gathered his team in front of him in a semi-circle at one end of Blaine High School's wrestling room.
Bad news slowly poured out of Foster's mouth.
He began to describe why Economy would join the team at the Mat Classic but not wrestle. During Economy's regional third-place match he got poked in the eye as both he and his opponent simultaneously shot at one another. Economy went down for 30 seconds but recovered and ended up winning the match.
After leaving Blaine High School, a single sneeze prompted Economy's eye to swell shut. His mom, Tracee Economy, took him to the Emergency room where it was determined he had sustained an orbital fracture, deeming him unable to compete in his first career Mat Classic.
"I was mad that I can't wrestle," Colton said. "Being a freshman making to it to state, I thought that was really cool."
In an instant everything he worked for had been snatched away.
But Colton and Tracee never gave up. They refused to take no for an answer. The two visited a new doctor Sunday, Feb. 16, but Colton still wasn't cleared. Tracee then reached out to Foster, who directed her to another doctor. Colton saw two more professionals Monday, Feb. 17, but both said he couldn't compete.
Foster saw the parallel's between Colton's and Tracee's fight and the Borderites' season. His message was simple.
"I just want you guys to realize that he and his mom kind of epitomize the kind of fight that we have shown all year," Foster said to his team. "That never give up, that never quit is important."
Turns out Colton's perseverance paid off. In an email sent from Foster Thursday afternoon, Feb. 20, he said Colton had been cleared and would likely wrestle at Mat Classic XXVI.
Like Colton did, Blaine hopes it can win tough battles, too. That might be the difference between Blaine claiming a Class 1A team state championship.
All season Blaine has showed an ability to win close matches.
"Coach teaches us to never give up," said 132-pounder Anthony Frey. "If we ever give up in practice coach makes us go longer and harder. It teaches us to not give up, so on the mat we fight hard and give 100 percent and never stop. That's what wins us matches."
And Blaine has been doing it without any big names or superstar wrestlers.
In fact, heavyweight senior Mikey Antczak, who placed third last year, is Blaine's only returning medalist.
"We have a whole bunch of kids who haven't been there and done that," Foster said. "We don't necessarily have guys who are on the radar as far as, 'He's going to be a state champion.' We are just a whole bunch of fighters."
That doesn't mean Blaine isn't talented, though.
Kyle Gonzales (106), Gage Lott (126), Anthony Frey (132), Caleb Frey (138), Christian Sharp (152) and Jon Stewart (160) each wrestled at the Mat Classic last year but didn't advance to the medal rounds.
The struggles hardened the group, put a chip on its shoulder and the Borderites are prepared to prove themselves.
"Everyone is hungry," Stewart said. "Everyone in there basically has something on their shoulder, me, the Freys, Kyle, and a couple of other kids. We want to medal, individually, yes, but mainly it's the team aspect. We want to win state as a team."
Team isn't usually synonymous with an individual-centric sport such as wrestling, but Blaine has rallied around the fact it has won together all season.
Each week, Foster said, a new wrestler seems to rise up and win a tournament, and the group's balance of talented seniors, contributing juniors and sophomores and trio of state-bound freshman have given the Borderites holistic success and balance.
"There is a lot of focus on team," Sharp said. "Everyday when I come in here, my goal is to improve myself, but to also improve my partner. It's been really prevalent in our team."
Blaine has certainly catapulted themselves into title contention. While they don't have individual locks to earn state titles, Foster said he could see four or five wrestlers putting together a strong enough tournament to find a title path. Add in a handful more placers and Blaine could have a winning equation.
The Borderites' success might boil down to how they perform Friday night when matches take place to determine who advances to medal Saturday, and who ends their season.
Blaine last year lost several matches late on day one.
"Last year was a little bit of a rough tournament for us," Foster said. "We were eighth in state, but we lost a bunch of matches on Friday night and hopefully we can break through that. Sometimes that's the heartbreak round."
Blaine has been taking steps to set itself up for success at the Mat Classic XXVI. First for the Borderites was advancing wrestlers to regionals from sub-regionals and then it was getting enough wrestlers to state in order to be in the running for a title.
Now comes time for Blaine to put it all together on the biggest stage in prep wrestling.
"Overall we have to win matches," Anthony Frey said. "It would be good if all 14 guys placed. Everybody has to score points in their weight. This year if we all place, I think we have a good shot of going in and winning it."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
BLAINE WRESTLING SEASON STATS
Wrestler Wt. Rec. Pins
Kyle Gonzales 106 25-6 15
Stuey Rasar 106 21-11 10
Colton Economy 113 20-9 8
Billy Dodd 120 27-8 15
Derek Camba 120 18-11 7
Riley Fritsch 126 24-7 15
Gage Lott 126 22-12 11
Anthony Frey 132 24-10 14
Caleb Frey 138 26-8 14
Christian Sharp 152 24-8 16
Jon Stewart 160 28-7 6
Tristan Hunter 170 20-10 4
Tanner Anthony 182 14-14 4
Mikey Antczak 285 24-6 19
MAT CLASSIC XXVI
When: Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22
Where: Tacoma Dome
CLASS 1A STATE QUALIFIERS
Kyle Gonzales 106
Stuey Rasar 106
Colton Economy 113
Billy Dodd 120
Derek Camba 120
Riley Fritsch 126
Gage Lott 126
Anthony Frey 132
Caleb Frey 138
Christian Sharp 152
Jon Stewart 160
Tristan Hunter 170
Tanner Anthony 182
Mikey Antczak 285
MOUNT BAKER Wt.
Alex Tyska 160
Travis Lindsey 170
Alex Ray 182
JT Keeney 195
Max Martinson 195
NOOKSACK VALLEY Wt.
Paul Newell 126
Taylor Gardner 138
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.