The pressure is on for South Whidbey senior Madison Evans.
Wrestling in the regional tournament, the state tournament qualifying round, for the first time in his career, Evans will have one final opportunity to advance to the coveted WIAA Mat Classic State Championships. Evans is one of nine Falcon wrestlers competing in today’s 1A Region 1 tournament at Klahowya Secondary School in Silverdale.
“This is it for me,” Evans said during a practice Thursday before the team hit the road Friday.
Evans placed second at 152 pounds in the 1A District 1 sub-regional Feb. 6. With a high finish, he secured a first-round bout against Vashon Island’s Connor Hoisington.
Evans qualified for the regional tournament in 2015, but a skin condition prevented him for wrestling. He’s looking forward to the chance to compete, but said he was aware of his weaknesses.
“I need to work on being more offensive. Normally I just sit back and let them work,” Evans said. “It would give me the upper hand.”
Evans may have the toughest road to state than any other Falcon wrestler. Only the top four finishers in each weight class advance to the state championships, and three of the top four wrestlers in the 1A class are in his bracket. All three placed at the WIAA Mat Classic State Championships, including Mount Baker’s Jeremiah Cronk, who pinned Evans in the sub-regional final. Consistency in his technique and strength will be crucial in determining whether he advances to state.
Falcon head coach Jim Thompson said Evans’ inexperience at the regional level has little bearing on how the grappler should perform.
“No, it’s not going to be much different,” Thompson said. “He wrestled tough kids last week, he’s wrestled tough kids all year. It won’t make a difference.”
Returning state participant Hunter Newman, a junior, is slated to wrestle Klahowya’s Gavin Hamblet in the opening round at 138 pounds. Newman lost 5-2 to Sultan’s Jakob Weaver in the final bout of the sub-regional tournament. Newman had defeated Weaver twice before in his career.
“I don’t think I went into it cocky because I stayed focused all day,” Newman said. “No excuses, but he’s been in a summer program all summer, he’s been working harder than I have all year. He probably desired it more.”
“Still no excuses, I lost,” he added.
Newman said his biggest problem this season has been getting out from the bottom position.
“That’s what stopped me last year,” Newman said. “I definitely try to work on that as much as I can. Every practice, I’ll do 20 reps of getting out from the bottom or whatever. I’m still trying to improve, I definitely saw improvement from getting out from the bottom last weekend, but that’s my biggest downfall right there.”
Falcon 126-pound sophomore Julian Fifield, after placing third at sub-regionals, has the toughest draw in the tournament. He’ll face two-time state champion Chase Wickman of Vashon Island in the first round. Heavyweight junior Chase Barthlett, in his first year wrestling for the Falcons, will open the tournament against Cascade Christian’s Taylor Backus.
Thompson said Barthlett’s loss to Nooksack Valley’s Tyson Mergel in the sub-regional semifinals was evidence of the progress he’s made this season.
“If he puts it all together, he has a chance,” Thompson said. “He already put probably the best heavyweight in the region on his back. But he’s got to put together a full match.”
Practices prior to the regional tournament were split between conditioning and drilling technique. Newman said the practices Monday and Tuesday were hard, while the Falcons had a recovery practice Wednesday, they ramped up Thursday.
“They have to wrestle really hard or it’s over,” Thompson said.
Like most wrestlers at this point in the season, Newman is feeling both physically and mentally tired. It’s all part of the grind, he says.
“We’ve definitely conditioned a lot the past three weeks and been pushing ourselves a lot harder than we normally have just getting ready for state,” Newman said. “We’ve had kids in years past who want to be done so they just quit, and go two-and-out. You have to have that mindset to keep going.”