Falcon wrestlers arm-barred from state tournament

Avery Buechner, a Falcon senior in the 195-pound division, looks for a way out against Blaine senior Caleb Johnson on Saturday. Johnson won the regional title in the 195.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Avery Buechner, a Falcon senior in the 195-pound division, looks for a way out against Blaine senior Caleb Johnson on Saturday. Johnson won the regional title in the 195.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

BELLINGHAM — South Whidbey’s wrestlers came close, but couldn’t half nelson their way to the 2A state wrestling tournament.

Five grapplers represented the Falcons at the regional wrestling tournament at Bellingham High School on Saturday. Some were knocked out of the competition early, and others missed a qualifying spot by a few points.

“One thing that I saw over and over again at regional was we’re just not as strong as some of these kids,” said Falcon head coach Jim Thompson.

Determination, experience and wit can overcome brute strength, but that was not the case for South Whidbey. The Falcons rarely made the first move, and appeared hesitant against unfamiliar wrestlers, preferring to circle the mat and “feel out” the competition.

“It depended on the kid,” Thompson said. “I didn’t see that they were that cautious. We were just a little overmatched.”

The first Falcon, freshman Josh McElhinny, was eliminated in the 113-pound pigtail match. It was a winner-advances bout that sent the victor into the official bracket, and the loser had to watch from the bleachers.

“I tried hit-and-switch a couple times. Every single time he dropped my trailing arm and stuck me back,” McElhinny said.

“I made a few mistakes, not too many, but the kid was stronger than me and overpowered me. There’s not much else you can do,” he added.

McElhinny was on the losing end. He sat through the marathon day that was elongated because the girls regional wrestling tournament was also at Bellingham High School. Despite having to watch from the stands instead of a day full of hand fighting and rolling, the Falcon freshman looked forward to next year.

“You may not be a state winner, but you can get places if you try hard and work on your moves,” McElhinny said. “I’ve still got three years.”

South Whidbey’s best chance of going to state, Thompson said, was senior Cameron Schille (132).

The road to Tacoma (where the state wrestling tournament is held), was blocked when Schille lost his first round match in the final 10 seconds. That loss still befuddled his coach on Monday.

“I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Did I just see that? Did that just happen?’” Thompson said. “He had the kid beat, and that kid ended up third.”

“That was a heartbreaker.”

Schille and his opponent spent much of the first round locked in hand fighting. The referee gave both wrestlers a warning before the match, but penalized Schille for stalling.

“It didn’t look like either one was doing enough to get a stalling call,” Thompson said.

In the second period, Schille recovered with a one-point stand. Tied at 1-1, his opponent scored a stand in the final period.

Schille took the lead on a two-point takedown and had his foe trapped on the mat with less than 20 seconds left.

With 10 seconds remaining, the Burlington-Edison wrestler spun out for a two-point reversal to win 5-4.

“I just hung an arm and he rolled through with it,” Schille said. “I wasn’t really wrestling as good as I normally do. I was really confident coming into the match. I was a little too confident.”

“I was too relaxed,” he added.

Schille won his next match and advanced to the alternate match, but lost.

“Cameron had the best shot. He lost that first match and just gave it away,” Thompson said.

Falcon senior Montana Johnson was pinned in his first-round match. He led early with an aggressive shot for a two-point takedown. His opponent from Burlington-Edison was awarded a penalty point and scored a two-point reversal. Johnson was thrown in the third period for a three-point near fall and pinned shortly after in 3:22.

“He just grabbed my head and rolled me through. He had me in a ball-and-chain. It’s really hard to get out of,” Johnson said.

“I took my shot and he ended up winning.”

Johnson was eliminated from the tournament after losing in the second round.

South Whidbey had two wrestlers qualify for the 195-pound division, Jerimiah Robey and Avery Buechner.

Robey won a pigtail match before losing to a Mount Baker grappler in the first round. Robey swiped at his opponent’s ankles, but was quickly thrown to the mat, rolled onto his back and pinned in 1:25.

Buechner was pinned with one second left in the first period. The Blaine wrestler scored an early takedown, and Buechner had to fight out of a two-point near fall to avoid an earlier pin. Buechner couldn’t escape his foe’s grasp and was pinned before the period buzzer could ring.

“He had a really good use of putting weight on your head. When there’s weight on your head, it’s natural to pop up and that exposes your legs,” Buechner said.

“He rolled me into it well, but that pin, I touched my shoulders and all of a sudden the match was over.”

In his second-round match, Buechner won to extend his tournament run.

His hopes of qualifying for the state championship were denied, however, as Buechner suffered a knee injury. The bum knee compounded with an already injured shoulder, which led Buechner to lose his next two matches to familiar opponents from the Cascade Conference, Archbishop Murphy’s Foster Wade and Sultan senior Jesse Castillo. Both qualified for the Mat Classic.

“I could see his knee was really hurting,” Thompson said.

South Whidbey’s heavyweight Jose Chavez (220) qualified for the regional matches, but was sick all week and did not travel with the team.

The Falcons finished in last place out of 14 teams in the regional standings.

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