South Whidbey freshman Drew Aposhyan was struck with a moment of awe when he stepped into the Tacoma Dome.
The size of the arena, which fits 24 mats and hundreds of the state’s top wrestlers competing in the Mat Classic, is a sight to see.
That sense of spectacle was a tough feeling to shake and unfortunately it carried into Aposhyan’s opening round match in the 113- pound bracket of the 1A state wrestling championships on Feb. 16. Castle Rock junior Ryan Marcil threw and pinned Aposhyan in just one minute and three seconds.
“I wasn’t ready for that next level of wrestling,” Aposhyan said. “It’s do or die at that point. I just didn’t know what to expect getting out on that mat for that first match.”
His teammates, junior Clay O’Brien (182 pounds) and sophomore Kobe Balora (195), also lost their first round matches. All three would be fighting to keep their seasons alive in the consolation bracket.
Undeterred by the loss, Aposhyan pinned Cascade Christian’s Parker Hemmings. O’Brien was also still alive after beating Montesano’s Tanner Rossmaier 16-5; Balora was eliminated by Elma’s Taitum Brumfield.
Aposhyan and O’Brien were one win away from a spot in Saturday’s competition and, at the very least, an eighth place medal.
The loser-out, elimination match is known by wrestling fans as the “blood round,” where state medals are earned and seasons are ended.
Aposhyan’s opponent, freshman Justyce Acosta of Jenkins High School, was more than a worthy challenge.
The two matched up tat for tat and neither scored in the first period. But, when it came time for Aposhyan to utilize his strength — his takedowns — he didn’t pull the trigger.
Hesitancy was all Acosta needed.
He took Aposhyan down and racked up near fall points before pinning Aposhyan with one minute 15 seconds left in the third period.
O’Brien had a similar fate. He was pinned by Castle Rock’s Peyton Watts in 2 minutes and 23 seconds.
Both technically finished ninth in the state. Aposhyan had mixed feelings about it.
“Placing ninth in a way is amazing for my freshman year,” Aposhyan said. “But, at the same time, it’s disappointing. It’s all just motivation to work harder in the off-season.”
Aposhyan understands his flaws. When he trailed by five points going into the third period, he felt it was an insurmountable deficit to overcome.
“I need to work on my mindset about fighting when I’m behind in points,” Aposhyan said.
Head coach Robbie Bozin knows Aposhyan could have been a state placer if he wrestled to his full potential. Aposhyan has a tendency of holding himself back.
“When he’s wrestling a guy who is equivalent to him, he ove-ranalyzes,” Bozin said. “He’s a very smart kid. He knows what to work on, which is great to get him to a higher level. But, he does that on the mat…and unfortunately that’s what gets the best of him.”
Bozin was ultimately encouraged by the performance of his wrestlers. He wants to double the number of state qualifiers next year.
“Obviously we wanted to make it to the second day,” Bozin said. “Drew and Clay were one match away from making it.”
“You make it into Saturday and you’re guaranteed eighth place. But, all in all, they wrestled tough. It was a good experience for them.”
O’Brien is a first-year wrestler. Earning a spot in the 16-man state bracket is an accomplishment in itself, but winning a match at state is another thing altogether.
He did so while sick with a chest cold, which sapped O’Brien of his strength but not his “warrior” mindset at state. Bozin said O’Brien continued to wrestle with aggression and fearlessness like he has all season.
“I was ecstatic for him,” Bozin said. “He wanted to move on to the next day and I wanted to, too. But, all in all, I’m super proud of that kid.”
Like Aposhyan, Balora felt like the whole experience was surreal.
“But, when the whistle blew, it was time to go,” Balora said.
Balora didn’t win a single match last season. Turning things around in his sophomore year was an encouraging sight to see for Bozin, who hopes Balora will become a tougher wrestler next year.
“Going 0-2 (at state), I think he’s going to be even hungrier,” Balora said. “I want him more fluid and to work on his flow. He brings a lot of football techniques. It’s great, but it’s really stiff. Kobe is a very strong kid. He’s super coachable.
“If he wants it that bad, I think he can get to state and win the first two matches and become a placer next year,” he added.