It’s hard to overstate the challenges and uniqueness of playing sports during a global pandemic. It’s even more difficult to accurately quantify it all in a sport like wrestling, where tight-quarters contact cannot be avoided in any way.
The very fact that there was a 2A Evergreen Conference sub-district wrestling meet is itself a milestone, something that even two weeks ago was surrounded by uncertainty.
Through it all, the W.F. West Bearcats once again showed their supremacy in the league, winning eight sub-district titles in the boys tournament and another in the girls tournament, en route to 353 team points, which dwarfed second-place Aberdeen.
“To be honest, I’m happy we’re just wrestling,” W.F. West coach Jamie Rakevich said. “I mean, it’s been a slog just to get to this point. Testing everybody every practice has been an issue. Masks has been different. And our kids have just rolled with it.”
The Bearcats got titles from Brady Davis at 138 pounds, which came with a win over teammate Cristo Parriott; Blake Ely at 145; Henry Jordan at 152; Evan Moon at 160; Darren Gray at 170; Bryce Laufenberg at 182; Brock Guyette at 190 and Bryson Boyd at 285.
Centralia had a pair of winners — freshman Antonio Campos at 120 and Jamal Waterson at 126. Rochester’s best finish was Hayden Dahl at 195, who finished third.
On the girls side, Jade Hudson won at 105 for Centralia, and Tigers’ 140-pounder Analeese Mcallister was second. WFW’s lone girls winner was Courtney Jones at 135.
“In her two matches today, and I chatted with her, she wasn’t technical,” Centralia coach Scott Phillips said. “She was out there scrapping instead of technique. She didn’t do a whole lot of (what we teach). To her credit, she did pull out wins even if she didn’t have her best day technically.
These sub-district titles, in some sense, are somewhat emptier than in normal years. There is no Mat Classic waiting after regionals. The short season ends abruptly with no chance to test one’s mettle against those from out of the area. Like all the rest of the sports, it’s a more insulated situation, inherently regional. The sports world has shrunk.
It would be a large untruth to say that nobody is disappointed. State is always the goal. It’s ingrained into the prep wrestling culture. The seniors don’t have one last chance to place. Standout freshmen, like Campos, can’t begin their quest to be a four-timer. When we look back on this era, there will be asterisks and what-ifs that will live on for time immemorial.
But that there is any postseason wrestling at all is something to be cherished, Boyd said.
“I didn’t think I was gonna have a season to start with,” the Bearcats senior heavyweight said. “So I feel like every day I get to come out here, it’s a blessing. So I’m just trying to cherish all that.”
But in this strange season there are lessons to be learned.
Take Waterman, for instance.
A year ago, a brief moment ruined his postseason, as he lost control of his emotions in the sub-district semifinal, was disqualified, and therefore banned from competing in the subsequent rounds.
This season, he had a chance at redemption, and is making good on that chance.
Saturday’s tournament started with an exciting 18-14 decision over Rochester’s Khristian Brant, followed by a major decision over Tumwater’s Brayden Welks, which got him, the No. 2 seed, a showdown with top-seeded Jack Dore of Aberdeen.
He used his superb takedown defense and lightning-quick reflexes to essentially cruise to a 9-3 win, getting that sub-district title and spot in regionals that eluded him a year ago.
“Last year, it got cut short due to my actions,” Waterman said. “This year, I made the right actions, wrestled hard, turned it around and took first.”
“I’m proud of him for working hard,” Phillips added. “And he has a child. He goes from school to work to wrestling and back to work. Proud of him for turning things around for making a better life for him and his family.
“I’ve coached him from a very young guy at Twin City Wrestling all the way up and through. It took awhile, but he’s finally figured it out. And I think other coaches respect that too, that he’s a different guy and doing a good job with it.”
There were also program lessons to learn.
Like every other wrestling program, the Bearcat numbers were down this season. It’s not super surprising, considering the inherent risk and amount of hoops to jump through.
But the four incoming seniors — Moon, Gray, Laufenberg and Boyd — all returned, and led the Bearcats through the tribulations, and set an example for the younger guys.
“It’s totally worth it,” Gray said. “You always want to wrestle. We’re here to wrestle.”