Back-to-back state champions won’t be a rallying cry for Blaine when the Borderites head to the Tacoma Dome this weekend for Mat Classic XXVII.
There’s nothing more Blaine’s nine state wrestlers would love than to bring home another team title, and it’s not outlandish to think they can, but the Borderites know talk is cheap.
“Honestly, we don’t really talk about it too much,” said 138-pound sophomore Riley Fritsch, who helped Blaine capture last year’s 1A state championship with a sixth-place finish. “I guess that’s just how we are as a program most of the time. We are not really cocky about winning. We are always looking ahead. We don’t really look back a lot.”
But while the past is the past and Blaine graduated six seniors from last season’s memorable postseason run, the fingerprints from last year’s accomplishment can be found all over Hall of Fame coach Craig Foster’s 2014-15 Borderites.
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The similarities begin with the way both teams wrestle.
“It’s a lot of the same,” Foster explained. “I got the feeling at the regional tournament and throughout, really, the season that our guys are into matches even when they get behind. They just kind of keep competing. We’ve had a lot of kids come from behind and win matches just because they are going to keep going no matter what the score is.”
A year after sending a mind-blowing 14 to state, Blaine is advancing an impressive nine to compete Friday-Saturday, Feb. 20-21, at the Tacoma Dome. Those include Colton Economy (113 pounds), Gage Lott (126), Derreck Camba (126), Anthony Frey (132), Billy Dodd (132), Fritsch (138), Preston Bellville (138), Caleb Frey (145) and Erik Davis (152).
And Caleb, a Blaine captain, has witnessed the never-give-in attitude in all them.
“For some it will be hard for them, but I know they won’t quit,” Caleb said. “I know they are fighters, and every single one of them is going to go up there and wrestle all six minutes and even more if they have to. No one is going to quit. I believe in them 100 percent.”
It’s an attitude deeply embedded within the team’s fabric, Caleb said, one that begins with Foster and assistant coach Jim Rasar preaching it and ending with wrestlers buying in thanks to the long, strenuous hours of training.
Blaine exudes a quiet confidence. The Borderites are poised beyond their years and wrestle unfazed in big spots.
In fact Foster, who considers himself a chronic worrier, several times this year has been soothed by his team after what he perceived would be a trying moment.
“One thing that these guys have done all season long is they sort of outperform my expectations,” Foster said. “Maybe I worry about things, and then they step up and compete.”
The Borderites’ confidence comes from several places.
First, they’re talented. Seven of this year’s state qualifiers were at last season’s Mat Classic. Secondly, winning a state championship offers a wealth of experience and lastly, they’ve navigated one of the toughest regular-season schedules Foster has ever assembled.
Forget a complete 16-wrestler bracket, Blaine has competed in 32-wrestler brackets, 64 and even 128.
“We’ve been to the hard tournaments, so we know what it’s like,” Caleb said. “State is just another tournament to us. We’ve been to tough, tough tournaments. Some of them, like tri state, are tougher than state.”
Blaine’s experience and fighting attitude will surely play a role this weekend, but if the Borderites are to win another state championship, they’ll have to accomplish the feat in a different way.
Blaine’s 14 state participants a year ago allowed the team to add points here and there, while Jon Stewart and Mikey Antczak by reaching the finals collected major points .
With five less qualifiers, the Borderites need make deeper runs and fortunately for Blaine, it has the wrestlers to do so.
Caleb, who won a regional title last week, is ranked No. 1 in his weightclass by washingtonwrestlingreport.com, and Anthony is ranked No. 3 in his 132-pound class. Anthony placed fifth last season, while Caleb finished fourth.
Fritsch is another who has a serious shot to contend for an individual title. He’s engineered a strong season and is ranked in the top five.
But Foster said overlooking any of his seven state returners would be foolish.
“Seven guys, all of them have stepped up and have been the best guys at various tournament,” Foster said. “I wouldn’t count any of them out.”