The regional tournament is a promised land that senior wrestler Jack Nielsen has heard about but never seen.
Injuries as an underclassmen as well as a disqualification in 2016 prevented him from moving beyond the district tournament. His last chance to advance comes this weekend when he and the rest of the Falcons compete in the class 1A District 1 sub-regional tournament today at Mount Baker High School.
Nielsen is poised more than ever to make it to regionals; he’s seeded second at 152 pounds and is setting his sights on reaching the finals of the district tournament, which would give him a top seed heading into Region 2 tournament next weekend at Highland High School and an even better chance of qualifying for the state tournament.
“Take first or second; third at least,” said Nielsen of his goals for the tournament. “I’m just going to do what I can.”
A top three finish would guarantee a berth to regionals for the fourth-year wrestler. Falcon head coach Jim Thompson believes a regional berth, as well as an appearance in the district finals, is within reach for Nielsen, as well as the other Falcon wrestlers.
“My goals are to get as many wrestlers to regionals as possible and as highly placed as I can get them,” Thompson said. “I’d preferably like to get four kids in the final.”
South Whidbey has two top-seeded wrestlers in the tournament. Senior Hunter Newman, ranked sixth in 1A according to the Washington Wrestling Report, has the top spot at 138 pounds while sophomore Aryeh Rohde will compete for a championship title at 126. Both Newman and Rohde are returning state participants.
Senior Logan Madsen (182) is seeded second, while senior heavyweight Chase Barthlett, another returning state participant, is seeded third. The rest of the team are first and second-year wrestlers seeded outside of the top three.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to get all my returning kids through,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be tough for first-year kids to move on. If they do, it would be a huge bonus — I just don’t expect them to. They just don’t have enough experience.”
The Falcons have ramped up the intensity in practice this week, according to players and coaches.
“We’re absolutely pedal to the metal right now,” Thompson said. “We’re working them hard and they’re not getting any breaks.”
“It’s testy in the mat room right now. There’s definitely an edge in there. I wouldn’t say they hate me, but maybe at the end of practice they don’t like me or my whistle too much. But it’s all good,” he added.
The week before postseason is typically difficult and strenuous, said Madsen, who competed in the regional tournament last season but has not yet made it to state. It’s all part of the postseason process of determining who wants to make it to state, he added.
“It’s been a lot harder,” Madsen said. “This is when you’re seeing who is in it and who is not.”
“I think everybody is doing the same thing we are in the mat room, really ramping it up and working harder than ever and it’s going be tougher competition,” he added.
Nielsen said he feels pressure associated with being a senior and just two losses away from a career end at the district tournament, but is comforted by the thought that he can only control what he can control.
“I feel it for sure, but at the same time, you just go out and do as good as you can do,” Nielsen said. “It’s leave everything on the mat; don’t leave stuff that’s going to haunt you forever.”