Despite placing at the state Class 4A wrestling tournament twice, Tanner Davis made a surprising admission at the beginning of his senior season.
“He told me he’d never won a tournament until he won the Inland Empire,” Central Valley coach John Owen said. “I couldn’t believe it. I was surprised.”
The 182-pounder had made it into the finals of big tournaments before – tournaments like the prestigious Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula.
“I was a bridesmaid,” Davis said with a laugh.
In addition to winning Central Valley’s season-opening, home-mat tournament, and the finals at the annual Tri-State tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Davis added the 189-pound title from last weekend’s Rocky Mountain Classic to his list of tournament wins.
So, what turned the finalist into the medalist?
“Focus,” Davis said. “I had to learn how to focus on my match and what I wanted to do in it and push everything else out of my head.”
That’s not an easy challenge to meet, not in a sport that finds unique ways of creating distractions.
“I think it really hit me at the state tournament when I was a sophomore,” Davis said. “I had never been to the state tournament or to the Tacoma Dome, so when I walked in there to wrestle that first time, it was pretty intimidating. There were four mats there for each classification, so there was a lot going on.”
Davis lost his first match in that tournament, and the addition of frustration to the cacophony got to be too much.
“I was so mad – I worked so hard to get to state and then lose my first match,” he said. “I blew it and completely threw my chance of winning a state title right out the window. I knew I had to put everything out of my mind and just focus on what I wanted to do in each match.”
Rallying, Davis battled back to bring home a fourth place trophy. Last year he followed up that showing by reaching the quarterfinals and bringing home a fifth-place trophy.
As hard as he works on his moves and his stamina, Davis said he’s worked just as hard on his pre-match routine.
“I like to take a couple minutes for myself before a match,” he said. “I take some deep breaths and just try to clear everything out of my mind.”
Cleared of distractions, he says, he’s able to concentrate on his game plan.
“I’ve been so lucky to have had John Owen as my coach the last two years and to have had Tommy Owen before that,” Davis said. “The one thing they both taught me is that you have to go into every match with a game plan. You have to know what you want to do and how you want to wrestle that match. That’s made a huge difference for me – especially in bigger matches. Matches don’t get easier the farther you go in a tournament.”
That focus will face its toughest test this week, when University comes to CV for the annual Battle of the Bone spirit match.
“I’d been to a lot of Battle of the Bone matches growing up and I knew coming in that it was just an incredible match to be a part of,” Davis said. “It’s got everything. Everyone gets so pumped up for this match, the crowd is incredible on both sides.
“I’m glad my last one is at CV, but it’s going to be tough. There’s a lot there to put out of your mind before the match.”
Davis, who won 24 of his first 25 matches this season, is a leader for the Bears – something he also began preparing for as a sophomore.
“My sophomore year I wrestled every day in practice with a senior, Jake Hollenbeck,” he said. “We went after each other so hard in practice every day – it was just like wrestling in a match. He was part of a great senior class that year and I watched all the things they did to help make us a better team.
“This year I’m just trying to do the same things they did.”
Owen insists he’s exceeded his predecessors.
“I don’t say this lightly, but Tanner is the best leader I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s not just that he does what you expect a leader to do – there’s something about Tanner that makes you believe what he tells you. It comes natural to him.”