Depending on a wrestler's mental makeup, being a heavyweight and competing last at the Mat Classic can be moment to relish or a time to wilt under the pressure.
The Borderites wrestling team, coach Craig Foster, Forks, Kiona-Benton defending state champ Cody Zyph and Mat Classic XXVI runner-up Dustin Olson each discovered, when under pressure, Blaine senior heavyweight Mikey Antczak performs at his best.
Blaine, which won Class 1A Sub-Regional and Regional titles, was considered one of a few favorites to win a state team title, but twice the Borderites' dreams hinged on Antczak's matches - once in the semifinals and again in the state-title match.
"There was just something about him that whole week," Foster said in a phone interview. "He kind of had that look in his eye, a calmness about him I don't recall seeing in his whole career. I just think he had his goal set."
Antczak earned his chance to wrestle for state title by first knocking off Zyph with a 3-0 decision in the semifinals. The win simultaneously kept Blaine within striking distance of Forks, who took a late tournament lead over the Borderites.
Then Antczak got a chance rarely presented to a high school athlete.
Blaine trailed Forks by 2.5 points heading into Antczak's match with Olson, and with teammates anxiously looking on, the Borderites senior handled the pressure like a seasoned veteran, putting together arguably the best match of his career while beating Olson 5-1 to not only capture his dream of an individual title but to give Blaine four points and cement its standing as 1A state champions.
"Honestly, I've been asked that a bunch of times, and I cannot, I don't have an answer for that," said Antczak when asked in a phone interview which was sweeter, winning a title for himself or for the team. "It's just, there's not a better way to win a state championship individually than to win as a team. I can't think of anymore incredible of a way to win it."
Antczak added a state title to his already hefty medal collection, which included a fourth-place medal two years ago and a third-place medal at last year's Mat Classic. The Blaine heavyweight went 34-4 this winter with 25 pins and has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Boys' Wrestler of the Year.
Foster, who guided the Borderites to their first state title since 1990 and advanced 14 wrestlers to state, has been selected Coach of the Year.
Antczak said the feeling of being a state champion still hasn't sunk in nearly a month later, but he's certainly frequently reminded of what he did for himself and his team.
Foster jokingly said he thought Antczak could have run for town mayor during the weeks following Mat Classic XXVI.
"That week everywhere I went people were congratulating me, and I've never experienced anything like that," Antczak said. "Everywhere around town, even at the gas station somebody congratulated me, and I didn't even know them."
There couldn't have been a better ending to a career, Antczak said, and his accomplishments are even more impressive given the intense commitment he made to become a state-champion wrestler.
He lost 35 pounds during a two-and-a-half month period during the summer after Blaine football coach Jay Dodd challenged Antczak to drop from 285 to 250.
Antczak also lost a tremendous training partner in Blaine grad Caleb Johnson and didn't have a strong wrestler to push him everyday in the wrestling room, Foster said, for whatever reason, Antczak didn't have an all-star regular season.
"We didn't really know what to expect, just hoped for the best," said Foster of Antczak's chances at the Mat Classic. "... I think that he knew he was the last chance for our team, and coming through with the win he was very poised, and he just didn't make mistakes. For him, I would say that he peaked at the right time."
The mistake-free, intelligent way Antczak wrestled at state was especially gratifying, Foster said. Antczak's style emulated the way Foster teaches his athletes to wrestle.
And to think Antczak was the keystone piece to help Foster and the Borderites win a state title is impressive in its own right given Foster's initial miscalculated judgment of Antczak.
Foster recalled the first time he met the state champ.
Four years ago, the Borderites coach gathered potential wrestlers for a preseason meeting to hand out paperwork and talk a bit about the upcoming season. Foster remembered candidly mentioning the team would be looking for a new heavyweight, which prompted someone to mention Antczak, who was sitting on the end at the edge of the mat.
"He had never wrestled before, and we've had plenty of big kids turn out before who never make it," Foster explained. "Shame on me, but I kind of rolled my eyes internally and thought, 'Yeah, he'll never make it, but that's OK.' And low and behold that year he didn't wrestle until he got down to weight, but he went to state and won a match. He is just a nice kid and shows up everyday and works real hard for a heavyweight."
Antczak said he hasn't decided whether or not he wants to wrestle in college. For now, he's enjoying the time off.
"My four years I've been wrestling, I did everything I could," he said. "I accomplished everything. It's kind of a relief, and I have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do and ended on a good note."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
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