Perhaps the loneliest place for a high school wrestler to sit is in the stands at the Tacoma Dome as an alternate during the state wrestling championships.
Central Valley senior Jeff Croskrey experienced that last year, losing his match for third place at 135 pounds at the Eastern Regional tournament to finish one match shy of the state Class 4A tournament.
So instead of wrestling at Mat Classic, Croskrey watched and cheered for his teammates.
“Oh man,” Croskrey moaned, his mouth still numb from a dentist appointment. “That is the hardest thing to do. On the one hand, you want your teammates to do well. But at the same time, you just feel empty inside.”
That empty feeling is a major motivator for Croskrey. He’s determined not to come up a match short of his goal in his final season as a Bear.
Thus far, the senior has gotten off to a good start, despite suffering a potential season-ending injury.
At the Inland Northwest Classic tournament at Central Valley, Croskrey reinjured the index finger on his left hand.
“I had an old injury to it – I could almost straighten my pointer finger all the way out. It was just the last joint that wouldn’t flex,” he said. “In the tournament, I went down to the mat and bent the finger farther than it wanted to go and it just burst. I could look inside and see the tendon.”
Doctors took a look at the hand and recommended he not wrestle for two weeks, but with his teammates facing a tough Greater Spokane League match at Mead, Croskrey opted to take the mat for what promised to be a close battle.
“We were able to tape it up pretty good so that he could protect it and it wouldn’t risk reinjury,” Central Valley coach John Owen said. “We wouldn’t risk it at Tri-State because that was just too many matches, but for one match, we figured it was OK.”
Still, the warning from his doctor was severe: Further injury would likely end his season.
“I was a little tentative and nervous at first,” Croskrey said. “I was trying to wrestle one-handed. But he got into me and took me down and I had to use it. After that, I just wrestled and managed to get the pin.”
The win, in the first match of the night, inspired the Bears to a 51-18 victory over Mead.
Sitting out the annual tournament at North Idaho College, however, was difficult.
“One of my goals coming into this season was to wrestle well at that tournament and to place,” he said. “It was hard to sit and watch again, but I didn’t want to risk my whole season.”
Now, with the holidays behind him, Croskrey is ready to wrestle. He plans to be in the lineup for this week’s GSL matches with Lewis and Clark and Mt. Spokane, and at this weekend’s major tournament at University High, the Pacific Northwest Classic.
“I’m really looking forward to this weekend,” he said. “I want to get in there and wrestle a tournament and see where I am.”
Croskrey has taken on a leadership role with this season’s Central Valley squad – but he’s not alone.
“In past years we’ve had young teams,” he said. “This year we’re more of a veteran group. All of the seniors are stepping up and setting an example. Pretty much, there’s a leader everywhere you look. We’re all focused.”
Hard work and a tenacious attitude are fundamental at Central Valley under Owen.
“Coach is always telling us that, if we stay after an opponent, we’ll win,” he said. “We just have to keep working hard and be mentally tough.”
The attitude in the team’s wrestling room has been positive.
Junior Tanner Teeples returned to Central Valley after a year in Utah where he was a state champion.
“Getting Tanner back was a big boost,” Croskrey said. “We know we can win this year and getting one more guy like that helped motivate us that much more.”
And seeing senior teammate Jeremy Savage win the 130 title at the Inland Northwest Classic added even more inspiration.
“Jeremy wasn’t expected to win at that tournament going in,” Croskrey said. “But he was determined to go out there and wrestle hard in every single match, and it worked. He came away with the title.
“That did a lot to motivate us all. That’s what we all want to do: go out and wrestle just as hard as we can every single minute we’re on the mat, in every single match. If we do that, we’ll win a lot of matches.”