Falcon wrestlers place fifth at Sky Valley Invite

South Whidbey junior Hunter Newman has faced plenty of tough competition in the second half of the season.

The tough competition just keeps coming for South Whidbey wrestler Hunter Newman.

The junior grappler placed second in the 138-pound weight class at the Sky Valley Invitational on Jan. 9, hosted by Sultan High School, after losing 9-5 to Auburn Mountainview’s Joey Santos in the finals. Santos is the top-ranked 138-pounder in Class 3A. He placed sixth at 138 pounds in the 2015 Mat Classic.

Newman wasn’t told about Santos’ wrestling caliber prior to the match. Newman said he isn’t the type to get intimidated by hearing a competitor’s ranking, but the coaches decided not to tell him anyway.

Newman nearly pinned Santos in the first period after securing his legs on a takedown. When Santos attempted to throw Newman, Newman bear-hugged his upper body and took him to his back. Newman was unable to pin Santos, but he did score three near-fall points. Santos responded by scoring on an escape near the end of the first period and also earned near-fall points in the second period.

Santos added another three points on a near-fall in the third period, which ultimately secured his victory. Santos came up and talked to Newman after the match and complimented him on his strength and the near-pin in the first period.

“It was definitely a good match,” Newman said. “This really just got me in the mindset that I really can beat them, I have the skill sets too.”

After placing fifth in the Everett Classic on Jan. 2 where four top-10 ranked wrestlers in the 3A and 4A classifications finished above him, Newman has faced his fair share of veteran grapplers in the past two tournaments.

The amount of progression head coach Jim Thompson has seen with Newman is a sign of things to come.

“You have to go out there and be the best that you can be when you’re wrestling kids like that,” Thompson said. “There’s matches where you can go out there and take it easy. But when you have a kid who’ ranked number one and all these kids who have been ranked in the top 10, you have to wrestle at your best.”

The Falcons placed fifth out of 16 teams, which was a surprising positive from the weekend, Thompson said. Four wrestlers, freshman Aryeh Rohde (126), sophomore Julian Fifield (132), senior Madison Evans (160) and junior Chase Barthlett (285) placed third in their respective weight classes.

“Excellent job team-wise for kids fighting back that lost early to take third place. That’s so important,” Thompson said. “You tell these kids, ‘Don’t get discouraged if you lose a match.’ Really, a lot of good wrestlers will stumble and lose a match and place third.”

Barthlett, like Newman, faced a high-ranked wrestler in Auburn Mountainview’s Antonio Corea, who placed third at 220 pounds in 2015. Though Barthlett was pinned in the first period, Thompson said he stuck with Corea until the very end. Barthlett’s performance in the match was a confidence builder, he said.

“It was pretty good, knowing I went against someone who placed third at 3A,” Barthlett said. “I wasn’t just a roll around for him.”

“At first, I was extremely angry. But, going toe to toe with someone like that was pretty good for me,” he added.

Barthlett didn’t wrestle his freshman and sophomore years. Because of this, Thompson said the heavyweight will need more mat time before he can reach his full potential.

“I want to see Chase get out here and get matches,” Thompson said. “He missed two years of high school wrestling and that hurts. I think he can be real good. He’s wrestled some tough kids too.”

Thompson credited the resolve of his team thus far in the season. Typically, due to the intensity of practices, kids drop out of the program as the season progresses. Not this year.

“I haven’t had one kid that has quit the program this year,” Thompson said. “For them to last a whole season at the high school level is a testament to them and their toughness.”