As a freshman at Vashon Island High School, now-South Whidbey sophomore Julian Fifield went toe to toe with some of the Class 1A powerhouse program’s best wrestlers.
It wasn’t pretty.
But there were lessons to be learned from the bumps and bruises he sustained along the way. Humility, he said, was among them.
His biggest takeaway had to do with his ability to push himself beyond his limits. Fifield did just that at the start of the season when he won the 132-pound division at the Return of the Seahawk tournament hosted by Chief Seattle High School on Dec. 5.
It was Fifield’s debut in varsity competition. He pinned Evergreen’s Christopher Castillo in 22 seconds and defeated East Valley-Yakima’s Efren Rojas-Zarate 15-0 to reach the finals. In the final, he pinned Auburn’s Brayden Sauve in 27 seconds in the finals match to claim first place.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I went into the matches pretty anxious and I came out alright.”
The Falcons, who traveled to the tournament with only nine wrestlers, finished fourth out of 13 teams. Chief Sealth won the tournament.
Fifield and junior 145-pounder Hunter Newman both won their respective weight classes, while junior Chase Barthlett placed second at 285 pounds. Barthlett was unable to wrestle in the finals match due to an injury sustained in his semifinals pin of Cleveland’s Michah Freeman.
South Whidbey juniors Trevor Kleinfelder and Logan Madsen placed third at 182 and 195 pounds, respectively.
For head coach Jim Thompson, the tournament’s outcome came as both a surprise and validation of the Falcons’ work the Falcons in the early parts of the season.
“They’re a little tougher than I thought they were,” Thompson said. “They’re absorbing what we’re teaching so that was fun. It looks like I may have a nucleus of a pretty good group of kids here.”
Though there were mostly teams from what has traditionally been a weak Class 3A Metro League at the tournament, Thompson was still impressed with the Falcons ability to win matches in dominating fashion.
Among the many surprises at the tournament, Thompson said the biggest was Fifeld’s performance.
The coach had only observed Fifield during practice and not in actual competition. While his toughness was never a question, he wasn’t sure about his technique.
It’s safe to say Fifield debunked some of Thompson’s doubts.
“I mean, wow,” Thompson said. “Pinning his kids in 27 seconds in the final? Tenth grader? First varsity tournament? I really don’t care that it was against the Metro League.”
Fifield said the Vashon Island wrestling program has a year-round curriculum. Seeing firsthand the kind of work ethic it takes to excel in the sport was a humbling experience.
It’s also raised the bar for his own standards of hard work at practice and out on the mats in competition.
“It was like a mental build,” Fifield said. “I sort of knew how far I had to push myself to win against somebody. There’s some people that, no matter how hard I push myself, they’re going to still beat me because they wrestle harder than me and they’ve trained harder than me. There’s always going to be people like that, so I just got to push myself like that.”
Thompson said that Newman’s 4-1 semifinal victory over Mount Tahoma’s Isiah Adams was the biggest win of the day.
Adams had a similar build and wrestling style as Newman’s biggest nemesis last season, Sultan’s Jamell Carroll, who defeated Newman in both the Cascade Conference sub regional and Region 1 tournaments before placing third at 132 pounds at the 2015 State Mat Classic.
Newman, a returning state participant, scored on a double-leg takedown early in the second period and later reversed Adams while in the bottom position to go ahead by four points. He allowed one escape point and rode Adams out the rest of the match. Thompson knows that Newman will be facing plenty more opponents like Adams as the season progresses.
“His win against the Mount Tahoma kid, that’s the kind of kids he’s going to be seeing at 1A and 2A,” Thompson said. “I think he may have been a little tight when he first went out there. But he was a strong kid.”
Thompson was proud to see Kleinfelder win two matches on the day and earn a medal after the junior had a rough sophomore campaign.
He was also pleased with Barthlett, who wrestled at Langley Middle School but didn’t turn out his first two years in high school.
“My heavyweight, never seen him wrestle and two years not wrestling, getting into a final in his first one was freaking cool,” Thompson said.
The Falcons have a tough road ahead of them in the coming weeks, especially so this weekend. They’ll compete in the Iron Sharpens Iron tournament hosted by Bellevue Christian, where a number of strong 1A teams will be in attendance.
The experience could be a sobering moment for some of the wrestlers who may have faced light competition at Chief Sealth.
Thompson expects Newman to reach the finals of the 145-pound division once again.