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South Whidbey's Thompson tested early by competition at Mat Classic
Evan Thompson, nicknamed “E.T.,” was a bit similar to his movie alien counterpart.
Both were in a completely new world. For South Whidbey’s E.T., the new world was the state wrestling tournament. He was living a dream.
He walked into the Tacoma Dome for Mat Classic XXIII. By 7 a.m., the doors opened for the athletes, and weigh-ins started an hour later. Thompson wouldn’t wrestle until noon.
South Whidbey’s lone representative was excited and ready for his chance to claim a state title.
“I’ve been dreaming about state since I got to high school,” Thompson recalled.
The lights, the size of the Tacoma Dome, the number of mats and the sea of spectators and wrestlers overwhelmed him. He had never seen so many people from the vantage point of the arena floor.
The spectacle even caught South Whidbey head coach Jim Thompson’s attention.
“The feeling was just incredible,” he said. “You have to be down there [on the mats] to imagine what it’s like.”
Thompson was used to the company of the Falcon team at the previous seven tournaments. Here, the wrestler felt alone. Only 16 competitors from Class 2A schools in each weight class qualified for the state wrestling tournament, and Thompson was now in elite company in the 145-pound division.
One word stuck in his mind: state.
It repeated itself. State. State.
His name was called and the nerves settled, the loneliness left him and he once again focused for a match.
In the first-round match, Thompson faced Eatonville senior Zach Schrader. They shook hands and circled around the center of the mat. Thompson shot first and scored a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds.
Schrader, the third-ranked 2A wrestler in the state, reversed Thompson for two points.
With South Whidbey’s senior underneath, Schrader cradled Thompson and pinned him in 1 minute, 4 seconds.
Thompson explained that he stopped moving and trying to escape once he was reversed, which led to being pinned.
“I don’t think I wrestled that well against [Schrader],” Thompson said. “His grip was really tight. I wasn’t going anywhere. He’s a really good wrestler.”
Schrader lost in the championship match for a second-place finish.
Then Thompson settled in for a long wait. The second round didn’t start until 4 p.m., and Thompson was scheduled to wrestle closer to 6 p.m. He returned to the hotel with his family and went out for lunch. He hydrated. He napped, but couldn’t stay asleep.
The nerves crept back in, now feeding the anxiety of elimination.
He didn’t remember getting any advice or words of encouragement during the lull. By choice, he hadn’t received any during the regular season, either.
“I know they’re there with me and that comforts me enough,” Thompson said.
When he returned to the dome for the second round of matches, his path didn’t get much easier. Thompson was matched against Cody Carlson, the eighth-ranked senior from Black Hills High School in Tumwater.
Thompson described Carlson as a defensive wrestler, a style he neither saw nor faced during his season. Carlson waited for Thompson to make an offensive move and would try to position himself around that play. For all the cat-and-mouse they played, Carlson threw Thompson for a big takedown, a new move for the South Whidbey senior.
Carlson pinned Thompson 15 seconds into the third period and ended Thompson’s dream season.
But Thompson avoided the cliché post-loss explanation of giving everything he had. He said he was disappointed.
“I didn’t wrestle like I should have,” Thompson said. “He was the better wrestler that day.”
Coach Thompson agreed and said his son should have beat Carlson.
“He [Evan] should have finished his first shot,” coach Thompson said. “You have to keep moving.”
He reflected on how Evan’s fourth-place finish at the regional tournament bumped him to the lower bracket, where he had to face higher seeds from the other regions. For all the could-haves, should-haves or would-haves, coach Thompson is still proud of Evan’s accomplishments.
“He [Evan] had a great year,” he said. “And I’m really proud of him. State is just the crown on top of that.”
The South Whidbey wrestling coaches and Thompson stayed in Tacoma for Saturday’s final matches. Watching wrestling without his singlet on was new for Thompson, and frustrating.
He found comfort in knowing he qualified for the state tournament, when hundreds of quality athletes had not. He also was encouraged by watching Schrader and Carlson advance to place as high as they did (second and fifth, respectively).
“It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Thompson said.