Mount Baker girls’ wrestler Natalie Smith is used to the Mat Classic. She’s used to the chaos of the Tacoma Dome and even familiar with the competition once day two comes around.
What Smith (120 pounds) isn’t accustomed to, however, is the championship match, when the Dome goes from 24 mats to six and the eyes of hundreds of people focus on every take-down attempt.
The past two years, Smith has earned a medal. In 2014, she placed seventh and in 2013, she finished eighth.
On Saturday, Feb. 21, the junior knew she couldn’t place worse than sixth. After winning her semifinal match, though, Smith was pitted against two-time state champion, Jordyn Bartelson from Puyallup — yet another thing she knows too well.
Bartelson has gotten the better of Smith three times in the past two years, including in the second round of 2013’s Mat Classic.
So while the stage was new, the opponent was familiar. And that wasn’t the best thing for Smith, as she ended up losing a 5-3 decision.
“I think it maybe got into my head that she’s a two-time state champ, now three, that she had done it before. She had more experience,” Smith said. “I think if I could have kept that out of my head, I should have got the first takedown.”
The added pressure of a championship match also hampered Smith.
“It was a big rush, but I tried to keep that completely out of my mind until it was over,” Smith said. “It still kind of crept its way in. It’s just such an overwhelming feeling.”
It didn’t appear to make Smith, who had earned two pins and an injury default in her first three matches at Mat Classic XXVII, any less aggressive.
She went for a takedown early, but was denied by Bartelson, who forty seconds later got a takedown of her own.
Smith almost escaped before the end of the first round but was just a second too slow, as she entered the second round down 2-1.
In the second round, Smith started on the bottom and used the full two minutes to escape, almost pulling a two-point reversal, but was awarded the one-point escape after the whistle.
Starting on top in the third round proved to be a disadvantage, as Bartelson got an escape and a takedown midway through the round.
Smith tried to stay alive with a two-point reversal in the final seconds but couldn’t get a near fall to tie it up.
The Baker junior, while disappointed, said next year was another opportunity. But she’ll likely still have to get by Bartelson, who will be going for a fourth straight championship.