Long before the season began, South Whidbey High School head wrestling coach Jim Thompson took a gamble by booking a pair of hotel rooms in Tacoma.
Thompson was under the assumption that at least one Falcon would advance to the WIAA Mat Classic State Championships in the Tacoma Dome on Feb. 19-20. He had a good feeling that returning state participant, junior 138-pounder Hunter Newman, would advance. But, beyond Newman, the coach wasn’t sure who else might qualify for state.
Thompson may need to book an extra room to accommodate Newman, freshman Aryeh Rohde and senior Madison Evans advancing to the state tournament. All three placed in the top four at the 1A Region 1 tournament on Saturday at Klahowya Secondary School.
First-year wrestlers Daniel Ramos, a senior, and Chase Barthlett, a junior, placed fifth at 120 and 285 pounds, respectively, and will travel with the team as state alternates. Having five out of seven competitors advance to state was a pleasant surprise for Thompson.
“I wouldn’t say they overachieved, but they wrestled pretty well,” Thompson said. “Sometimes you start to doubt yourself when kids are losing, but sometimes you just have to stay the course.”
Newman reached the finals for the second consecutive year after pinning Klahowya’s Gavin Hamblet and Sultan’s Matt Johnsen. He lost 9-0 to Cascade Christian’s Sean Hussey to finish second. He’ll face freshman Frankie Almaguer of Granger in the first round at state.
Rohde placed fourth at 120 pounds. Rohde bounced back from a first-round loss by winning two consecutive matches to reach the third- and fourth-place bout, where he was pinned by Skyler Issacson of Mount Baker.
He is the first freshman in Thompson’s 12 years as head coach to advance.
“As long as he doesn’t go out there and make up stuff, he’s a good wrestler,” Thompson said. “I think he’s going to be a really good wrestler.”
Rohde was mostly dominant in his state-or-bust match against Vashon Island’s Rodolfo Flores, though he did find himself on his back in the second period. Rohde pinned Flores with 1:08 left in the third period.
“It feels amazing,” Rohde said. “My one goal this year was to actually pin Hunter [Newman], but this is just as good. Hunter is next.”
Rohde concurred with Thompson’s critique and said he focused on going in with a cool head and listened to the coaches. He was also proud to have joined the elite fraternity of state wrestlers at South Whidbey.
“I just feel so honored to be part of this team,” Rohde said. “It’s such a loving program and the coaches are just amazing. I feel honored to be even able to go to state and follow in the footsteps of all the others who have gone to state.”
Rohde will face returning state champion TJ Baun of Colvin in the first round.
Evans advanced to state in perhaps the toughest bracket, which contained three of the top four wrestlers in 1A. Thompson felt Evans had a fairly good chance of placing in the top four.
“When you think about that, that leaves one place open for every other school to fight for,” Thompson said. “For him to be that guy, I’m really proud of him.”
“That was a really defining moment for him,” he added.
Evans was depleted but excited after beating Sultan’s Chase Leonard to advance to state.
“I’m tired, but every last ounce of that energy I used was worth it,” Evans said. “This is not something you feel every day.”
Evans will wrestle Deer Park’s Dean Lockwood in the first round at state.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and kicking some butt doing my best,” he said.