East Valley High School wrestlers suffered a crisis of confidence on the final day of Mat Classic IX, but in the end their character prevailed.
The Knights scored 97 points topped off by finals appearances by Justin Walker and Brad Crockett for their first-ever State AA wrestling championship.
“The best thing I can say about this is they are a great group of guys,” said coach Craig Hanson. “I can’t express how happy I am for them.”
But the title didn’t come without trepidation. The Knights lost four of six semifinal matches in Saturday’s morning round, including 1996 State AAA runner-up Christopher Duncan’s excruciating overtime loss to three-time state placer and two-time champion Brandon Springer of Monroe.
“How they ended up on the same side of the bracket, I’ll never know,” Hanson said.
Then Tristan Beeman, beaten at the buzzer of his 190-pound semi, reacted by hurling his headgear and ultimately cost the Knights five points and himself further competition.
But the Knights’ character shone through in the efforts of a determined Walker and unlikely finalist Crockett, both runners-up, and comeback efforts by Duncan and 115-pounder Kevin Woolf.
A year ago, Walker was upset in district and didn’t qualify for state.
“Right after that, he prepared for this year,” said Hanson.
Which is why Walker took his 6-4 loss to Andy Soliman so hard.
Although pinned quickly in the first round of his final, Crockett felt good. A junior varsity wrestler last year, he came from nowhere to the title match.
“I’m happy with second,” he said, “but not satisfied. I want a state title before I’m through.”
Buoyed by the focused efforts of Woolf and Duncan, the Knights had enough points by the end of the afternoon session to win state.
Both wrestlers won consolation semifinal matches.
Woolf, with a second-period escape and 1-0 victory, finished fourth overall. Duncan, a state runner-up at Richland last year, outscored two foes by a combined 28-1 for third.
Quinton Chapman, who lost twice Saturday, including in the 135-pound semifinals, finished fifth for the Knights. Joe Adamson won three times at 129 pounds following a first-match loss and finished sixth.
Walker reached the finals in another dramatic bout with West Valley’s Quinn Sharpe. The two wrestlers had split twice during the year, then were involved in two one-point matches during tournaments.
Tied 3-3 in their state contest, Sharpe earned an escape but the alert Walker responded with a takedown and rode out the 5-4 decision.
Crockett’s semifinal win was more convincing but no less dramatic. He trailed early, fought back for a tie, and dominated the third round with two near falls during a 6-2 win.
During the AA tournament, Region IV wrestlers earned 40 top-eight places and titles.
Other Frontier League placers were Mike Gibson, sixth at 141 and Gabe Schaefer, seventh at 135, for Cheney; Tyson Thivierge and Mike Reyes, fifth at 178 and 108 respectively for Clarkston; and Nick Easter, eighth at 275 for Colville. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo