It’s do or die for South Whidbey’s wrestlers.
Six Falcons qualified for today’s class 1A Region 2 tournament at Highland High School in Yakima. Wrestling began at 10 a.m.
The regional tournament is the final step toward advancing the state tournament, which will be held Feb. 17-18 at the Tacoma Dome. But, the road to state will not be easy, head coach Jim Thompson said.
The Falcons will be pitted against some of the top teams in 1A according to Washington Wrestling Report, including Granger (first), Sultan (fifth) and Zillah (ninth). Granger has 15 state-ranked wrestlers ranked in the top 12, while Sultan and Zillah also have a combined 15 wrestlers ranked.
The region is so tough that Thompson is confident that if any South Whidbey wrestlers do make it to state, they will have a strong chance of placing.
“It’s going to be very, very tough to move kids on to state through that particular region,” said Thompson, who was recently named the district’s “Coach of the Year” by his peers.
While none of South Whidbey’s grapplers won the District 1/3 tournament at Mount Baker High School on Feb. 4, three Falcons placed second while three placed third and fourth. Seniors Hunter Newman (138 pounds), Logan Madsen (182 pounds) and Chase Barthlett (285 pounds) reached the finals of the district tournament, but all three were pinned by their opponents.
Newman, who was previously ranked sixth in the state at 145 pounds by Washington Wrestling Report but is no where to be found on the most up-to-date rankings, is vying for his third consecutive berth to the state tournament. He will do so with a major injury — a broken hand. He was injured at a dual meet in late January, but coaches Thompson and Paul Newman, Hunter Newman’s father, kept it out of public knowledge until Thursday afternoon.
There is nothing in the school’s athletic code that prohibits an athlete from competing while injured, not including concussions.
Thompson said Newman is now essentially a one-handed wrestler and at a disadvantage to his opponents. High hopes of winning a state championship or placing in the top eight are now slimmed down to just qualifying for state, Newman said.
“It’s definitely affected it because I definitely would have destroyed that kid last weekend, but I got stacked and put on my back,” Newman said. “I’m more focused on my hand and worried about it and not really wrestling.”
He said there are only about five moves he can successfully do with his broken hand, which limits his ability as a wrestler.
“I have a lot of pressure in my hand, so I can’t squeeze really hard,” Newman said. “It’s just getting over the speed bump is the hard part.”
Hunter Newman rated the pain as being a five on a scale from 1-10.
Barthlett, ranked 12th in 1A, is aiming for his second state appearance after qualifying in 2016. The fourth-year wrestler beat Mount Baker’s Ethan Vallum in the semifinals of the district tournament before losing to Nooksack Valley’s Tyson Mergel in the 285-pound final.
“I feel a lot better this year, because last year I came in fourth place,” Barthlett said. “It was a helluva time at regionals. I feel a lot more confident now that I know the ropes and how it works.”
Barthlett said Thursday afternoon that he feels little self-doubt or pressure despite the fact that his career is on the line today. Thompson believes that if Barthlett is able to compete with the same level of competitiveness at regionals as he did at districts, he has a strong chance of qualifying for state.
“If he wrestles the way he wrestled Saturday, he’ll be just fine,” Thompson said.
The other Falcons competing today include sophomores Aryeh Rohde (126 pounds), Owen Boram (152 pounds) and 170-pound sophomore Alex Turner, a first-year wrestler.