TACOMA — It was a long road from the small, dark, smelly mat room at South Whidbey High School to the 20th Mat Classic state wrestling finals in the Tacoma Dome on Friday.
Collectively, it took Falcon grapplers Aaron Mannie, James Schorr, Darrin Britton, Jordan Broyles and Trapper Rawls a total of 175 individual matches over almost three months to get there.
By the time it ended the next day, Rawls had placed highest for South Whidbey, taking fourth place in the heavyweight class at 285 pounds. Schorr was seventh in the 160-pound class.
And though just five were on hand from South Whidbey, the team itself placed 23rd out of 55 schools present in the 2A division.
The Mat Classic is the big time for high school grapplers, a wrestling Olympus with top teams from all over the state representing 180 schools and 1,260 athletes, all watched and cheered on by 5,000 raucous fans surrounding the action on the stadium’s floor.
(171-pound weight class) was suitably impressed.
“There’s more people here than I thought there’d be. A lot more,” he said gazing out at the 48 grapplers engaged simultaneously on 24 mats. “I expect all of these guys will be tough and all I can do is my best.”
Inside the aging wood and cement dome, it was a riot of color and noise with the floor in constant movement as coaches, athletes, the press and “mat rats” (as cheerleaders are termed) traversed from one venue to another.
In the crowded halls circling the interior, the concession stands briskly sold XX-themed T-shirts and the Marine Corps searched for a few good recruits.
“Every wrestler works hard, it’s the nature of the hardest sport in high school,” Falcon coach Jim Thompson said as he waited for the first match.
“To get here is the ultimate goal and a lot of wrestlers, all good athletes, had to stay home this weekend. What’s left, the guys you see out there, are the elite.”
The elite hailed from high schools small and large; from Warden, Central Valley, Wapato, Royal, Oroville, Concrete, Kiona-Benton, Forks, Blaine, Cashmere, South Whidbey and dozens more.
Though the meet officially began at 10 a.m., the first Falcon wrestler, Aaron Mannie (152) had to wait for two hours. He and his teammates stood on the hard cement floor to warm up even as they examined closely the wrestling styles on display. They walked into the stands to chat with coaches and parents, checked out the official program and generally did their best to work the butterflies out of their systems.
But this was no holiday for them; win they must, or go home.
“I feel different than last year,” Rawls said. “I think I know what it takes to succeed.”
Britton (215) said he felt great.
“It’s awe-inspiring with all the people and noise. It feels prestigious just to be here,” he said.
Wrestlers showed a variety of attitudes — either relaxed, arrogant, worried or focused.
Suddenly, the Falcons’ casual atmosphere changed as the busy guy in the press box — announcing who’s up and who’s on deck — called Mannie and Schorr (160) to their respective mats.
Thompson and assistant coaches Paul Newman and Jason Mannie quickly decided who would be taking the corner seat for each wrestler — Mannie for his brother, Thompson and Newman for Schorr.
Mannie assumed his signature stance and the dance began — first up was Adam Wolfe from Steilacoom. Both were matched evenly but Mannie didn’t have his usual spark and lost 7-2 on points.
On the neighboring mat, Schorr overcame Hoquiam’s Alex Bratt with a reverse.
“He was good, but I knew I was up 14 points,” Schorr said. “I tried a cheap tilt, a good move when you’re ahead and want to maintain a point spread. I’ve been hitting the moves hard and not making mistakes.”
With Broyles losing to Aaron Boyle from Ridgefield and Britton out to William Low from Hoquiam, it was Rawls’ turn.
Heavyweights fight last and the other mats were slowly closing down before the dinner break.
Bryce Wells from Eatonville cast cautious glances towards Rawls, who’s rapidly gaining a reputation though still a junior.
It took Rawls 40 seconds to pin his man, using a fireman’s carriage and a half-nelson.
“I wanted to win and win fast,” Rawls said.
That evening didn’t go as well for South Whidbey; all the Falcons lost.
On Saturday, Mannie and Broyles couldn’t catch a break; Britton won only a single match.
Rawls won a consolation match then pinned his third and fourth opponents in 2:47 and 2:36. In the semi-finals, Blake Nichols pinned Rawls in .59 seconds flat.
“Trapper only beats himself sometimes but the fact is he could have beaten any of those guys,” Thompson said. “I’m proud of his efforts here.”
Meanwhile, Schorr won his third match, lost his fourth and ended the season with a decisive 16-8 win over Waylan Cork from Deer Park.
Schorr ended seventh in the 160-pound class but ended the year with the best overall record for his team with 34 wins and four losses.
“He wrestled tough in Tacoma; it was a nice way for James to finish his senior year,” Thompson said. “All these guys tried their hardest and their parents, high school and community should be enormously proud of them.”
Losing seniors to graduation is always hard but Thompson is looking forward to returning veterans Trevor Romero, Colton Vaughn, David Monell and, of course, Rawls.
“We’ll be making some serious noise at tournaments next year,” Thompson said.
Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or email@example.com.