The sport of wrestling demands much of its participants. Knowledge, technique, speed, strength, endurance.
It demands character.
The class 4A Eastern Regional wrestling tournament makes a big demand of those who seek to advance to this weekend’s championship tournament, the Mat Classic.
Three wrestlers advance from the regional in each weight class. The winners of each semifinal match automatically head to the state tournament. But the two who lose in the semifinal must pick themselves up and win two more matches to claim the third and final state berth.
“That’s a lot to ask of anyone,” Central Valley wrestling coach John Owen said. “You have, maybe, 45 minutes to get yourself together and get back out on the mat and wrestle another match. That takes character.”
No dwelling on what should have happened or what might have happened. Put it behind you and move on.
At last weekend’s regional, three of Owen’s Central Valley Bears did just that, earning a third-seed into this weekend’s tournament: junior Tanner Davis at 160 pounds and seniors Kurt Beck at 182 and Dan Schoultz at heavyweight.
“Tanner losing in the semis at 160 was a real upset,” Owen said. “Same for Schoultz at heavy. And Kurt Beck lost a really close match on a call that could have easily gone the other way. All three of those kids had to forget about that match and get back out there and wrestle again in order to qualify.”
Owen and their Bear teammates expected nothing less.
“That’s just what we do, it’s what we all expect of each other,” said senior Kolten Cole, the regional champion at 195. “We don’t wrestle just to get to the regional. We wrestle to place and to get to state – and we don’t wrestle just to get to state, either. We wrestle to get to state and to place and that’s what we prepare ourselves to do.”
How they handle setbacks depends on the individual, senior Tyler Thelen, regional champion at 132, explained.
“It depends on the individual how you talk to them,” he said. “A guy like Kurt Beck, you can talk to him right after and tell him ‘Forget it, move on,’ and he’ll just smile and say ‘Yeah, I know,’ and he’s done with it. A guy like Dan (Schoultz) takes a minute or two to process it and you just have to give him space. He’s going to get there on his own.”
In all, seven Bears qualified for the state tournament. Along with Cole and Thelen, sophomore Colton Orrino (126) enters the state tournament as a regional champion. Freshman Blake Beard lost in the finals at 120 and enters state as a No. 2 seed.
For Cole and Thelen, the character challenge came earlier in the season.
A year ago Cole was the runner-up at 189 pounds at the district tournament, but before he could take the mat at the regional, he injured a knee in practice and his season ended.
“I actually hurt my knee as a sophomore playing football and my other knee in wrestling,” he explained. “I saw the doctor and they said I could go ahead and compete on them, but they were cracky, poppy, grindy all year long. I was in pain all of last year and I think it slowed me down. It’s like you flinch before you make a move because you know how much it’s going to hurt.”
Arthroscopic surgery in May made Cole’s senior season pain-free.
A year ago, Cole worked to make his upper body stronger to compensate for his two bad knees. This year, he said, his speed is back to go with his strengthened torso and the combination has been a plus.
“I have so much confidence in my technique right now,” he said. “It all kind of clicked for me at a tournament when I had to wrestle up a weight class. Once I discovered that I could wrestle up and still hold my own, I knew I could handle anything at 195.”
Thelen began the season wrestling at 138 pounds, one class higher than where he captured the regional title.
“I don’t think he was comfortable at that weight,” Owen said. “But he was blocked at 132 because Colton Orrino was there and he couldn’t drop down until Colton dropped to 126.”
Once his younger teammate made his move, Thelen was at home and raring to go.
“I’m just more comfortable at 132,” he said. “I never really liked wrestling at 138.”
Owen said his squad ran a difficult gantlet at the end of the dual meet season – a crucible that forged a tough tournament squad that sends seven wrestlers, all of them ranked statewide, to state.
“We wrestled some very tough dual-meet teams down the stretch,” he explained. “Between the Dream Duals tournament at East Valley and the dual-meet tournament at Moses Lake, we had to wrestle the best teams in the state and we got beat. In between we had to wrestle Mead and they beat us.
“When you go through something like that, you get a chance to see just where you are as a team. I actually think it made us stronger. You can wrestle a team and beat them handily and come out of it not knowing just how good you really are. You don’t figure that out until you wrestle better teams.
“I can tell you this: We finished behind Moses Lake (at the regional) and I wouldn’t trade the team we’re taking to state for theirs.”