The Inland Empire Classic wrestling finals at Central Valley, an early-season gathering of top area competitors, served as an appetizer Saturday for classic matches to come.
The tournament, won by East Valley, which had eight finalists, merely whetted appetites and heightened anticipation for more following contests that previewed expected league and postseason battles.
None more so, likely, than at 119 pounds, where a pair of state champions tangled.
University’s Cory Fish, up two weights this year from the 103-pound weight class he won last year, pulled out a 2-1 decision over two-time titlist Anthony Vela (103-pound champion in 2003 and 112 winner last year) of Moses Lake.
Fish needed to have a second-period takedown call for Vela nullified and scramble for a reversal with less than a minute left in the match to claim the afternoon feature.
It was the renewal, following a year’s absence, of competition between two wrestlers with a history that dates back to their freshman years.
“I’ve wrestled him five times as a freshman and sophomore and now,” said Fish. “(The score is) probably me, 4-2. The first year I wrestled him, he was really inexperienced. The next year we went 2-2, but he beat me at regionals and won state.”
Fish grew into 103 pounds last year while Vela moved up. Now they’re the same weight again.
“I’ll probably wrestle him three, four, maybe five more times this year,” said Fish.
But, he added, winning this first one, or most of the subsequent ones for that matter, means little. The season still has more than two months remaining.
“It’s all about the end of the season,” Fish said. “Once it comes down to state, that’s what really counts.”
Still, the Classic provided its share of early-season excitement and there were plenty of other matches that commanded attention, including three others decided by a point and a couple of upsets.
In the 125-pound match that followed, a pair of Greater Spokane League state placers squared off. In a late flurry of point-getting, Lewis and Clark’s fourth-place returnee Nate Powell held off Central Valley’s Lucas Chesher 11-10.
Powell led 10-6, but Chesher rallied with a reversal and takedown in the final minute, only to have time run out.
At 171 and 215 pounds, a pair of EV finalists, brothers Jordan and Tyler Jolley were also beaten by a point, Jordan 8-7 by U-Hi’s Jon Sahlberg, Tyler 7-6 by Cheney’s Travis McGee. Both winners were hanging on at the end.
By and large, EV coach Craig Hanson was pleased with his team’s early-season effort – which included 11 top-five finishers – while discounting the outcome as deceiving.
“That’s just because University didn’t enter all their wrestlers. They were obviously missing some real guns out there,” he said. “Our kids wrestled about as well as I thought they would. We had some good young performances. Still, like everybody probably, we’re still a way out from where we need to be.”
EV scored 236 points, ahead of CV’s 180.5. U-Hi, which scored 173, didn’t wrestle at least five starters. But counting non-scoring “all-stars,” the Titans placed nine among the top six.
All four Titans finalists won, including freshman Brian Owen by pin over EV’s Shelby Lawson at 103 and Jeremy Montang, 13-3 over EV’s Bryce Fisher at 145.
EV’s two champions were Joey Plumb, with an upset third-round pin over Moses Lake’s Joe Vela at 112, and Fred Arnold, 11-6 over Lakeland’s Scott Underdahl at 160.
“That’s a mental one,” said Hanson of Plumb’s victory. “He had two losses to Vela last year at the Tri-State Tournament.”
Host CV had a strong showing, with two finalists and a total of 10 top-five placers, including extra entries.
“I’m surprised,” said 152-pound champion Camren Ebat, a CV junior. “I didn’t know how good we’d be because we had lots of seniors last year. We have a lot of young freshmen and sophomores who wrestled really well at this tournament.”
So did Ebat. Last year’s 145-pound district champion, he beat fourth-place state finisher Neil Didier from Mead 12-6 in a slight upset.
Ebat won the scrambles and had five takedowns to pull off the victory.
“I felt I had a pretty good chance at dominating the neutral position,” said Ebat.
An obviously disappointed Didier didn’t disagree.
“I need to work on my neutral defense,” he said. “He’s a good wrestler. He fought off two of my takedown attempts and I couldn’t stop any of his.”
The Classic featured a rare appearance by teams from Idaho, including Coeur d’Alene, which won two championships.
Three-time state placer Josh Manes of CdA put on a takedown clinic at 135 with six on the way to a 14-6 victory over LC sophomore Anthony Varnell.
At 189, defending Idaho state champion Ryan Allen of CdA blanked third-place Washington state veteran Derek Brown, of North Central, 9-0. The two had wrestled to a 0-0 first-period standoff before Allen took command.
“We’ve never been to this tournament before,” Allen said. “Well, a long time ago when our coaches were wrestling. I haven’t been here since I’ve been in high school.”
Although several of the Vikings have had previous competition this year, Allen said most of the wrestlers in Idaho are just getting started.
“The reason we came up here was to get us ready for Tri-State (next weekend in Coeur d’Alene),” he said. “It gives us a good feel for the guys in Washington who are coming there and wrestling.”
Although Allen said none of his matches were easy, the closest was a 6-0 win over Cheney’s Nolan Pegg in the semifinals.
Other champions were Wenatchee’s Tim Whitley over Cheney’s Blake Risk at 130; Ferris’ Kyle Yonago, who won by injury default over EV’s Matt Hanson at 140; and Mead 275-pounder Mike Magee by pin over EV’s Chris Helm.
Magee transferred to Mead this year from Gonzaga Prep.
GSL wrestlers had 23 of 28 finalists, 55 of the 84 top-six finishes and seven of the top nine team scores.
Moses Lake finished fourth and CdA was sixth.