Coming close to your dream – so close you have to shake hands with one who kept you from achieving it – eats at you in ways the average wrestling fan can barely imagine.
“I think about it every single day,” University senior Austin Stannard admitted. “I think about it and I wonder if doing just a little bit more – if I worked just a little bit harder, run a little bit more, pushed myself just a little bit harder – would it have made the difference?”
For Stannard, close meant wrestling in the 170-pound championship match at last year’s State Class 3A championships, where he lost to Sisto Pina of Kamiakin, 3-1, on a late and, some say, questionable takedown in the closing seconds. It meant standing in the middle of the mat while the referee raised Pina’s hand and standing one step down from the top as the championship medal was presented.
The senior said he set out this season to make sure he didn’t have regrets. He pushed himself harder, pushed his teammates harder. He invested hours of his time and gallons of his sweat making himself ready for this year’s tournament.
“It felt a little strange walking out of the wrestling room that last time,” he said. “So much of my life has been in that room that it felt strange to think that it was all over. Four years flew by so fast.”
Today, on the final day of his final season as a high school wrestler, Stannard is just a little bit more motivated, a little bit hungrier, a little bit more driven to get back to the title match and win.
Stannard is the No. 2-ranked wrestler in Class 3A, and he’s seeded to meet No. 1 in the finals: Marysville-Pilchuck’s Drew Hatch.
But it’s the semifinal round that has Stannard the most excited.
“I’m seeded to wrestle my own teammate in the semifinal and I think that’s going to be awesome,” Stannard said. “Just think about how many team points we’ll get from that happening!”
Fellow senior Connor Douglas, also a state-ranked competitor, would be that semifinal opponent, and if that happens, it guarantees the Titans a wrestler reaching the finals.
In the end, Stannard said, it’s the team that matters most.
University captured the state Class 3A team title last year when Tanner Orndorff won the 195-pound final.
“The fact that we won the state title as a team took a lot of the sting out of losing in the finals,” Stannard said. “And to win it the way we did last year was just incredible. It wasn’t about the guys who stood on top of the medal platform. It was about everyone on the team scoring points and doing the best they could and then doing just a little bit more.”
Stannard said he’s quite happy with his draw and his preparation for the tournament.
“We got film on many of the guys and we put together a pretty good scouting report,” he said. “Some teams are famous for certain moves and you can expect to see those moves in a match, so we prepared for that.
“Some of the guys from the other side of the state I don’t know all that well and I like that. For those kinds of matches, you just go out there and wrestle your match and take it to them. I like doing that in a match.”
Stannard said he’s received a few feelers from colleges interested in him wrestling for them next season, but he’s holding off making any decisions.
“My No. 1 sport really is baseball,” said Stannard, who was named an all-league outfielder in the Greater Spokane League. “My preference would be to go play baseball in college and if I have the chance to do that, I will. But if that’s not possible, I would love to wrestle in college.”
For today, however, his full attention is on wrestling.
“I’ll start thinking about baseball next week, once practice starts,” he laughed. “Besides, it’s supposed to snow and we’re probably going to have to start practice and have tryouts in the gym. It looks like it’s going to be a while before we can get outside and actually start to play baseball.”