Three South Whidbey wrestlers were guaranteed a spot in the 1A Mat Classic, the statewide wrestling tournament in Tacoma on Friday, Feb. 21.
Two more Falcons qualified as alternates and would get to wrestle if someone else in their weight class dropped out or didn’t qualify. Falcon head coach Jim Thompson said it was the first time in at least five years he took five wrestlers to the state tournament.
On the eve of the daylong meet in the bright lights of the Tacoma Dome, 145-pound senior wrestlers Andy Madsen and Kyrell Broyles remembered hard lessons learned, and 285-pound class wrestler Pierce Jackson discussed his transformation from a timid sophomore into a brutish junior.
South Whidbey’s coaches had little doubt Madsen would make it to the Dome, the term the Falcons use for the state wrestling tournament. For most of the season he shone as South Whidbey’s best wrestler. Though Madsen lost a few bouts this season, Thompson joked after the Region 1 tournament that he would have bet his house that Madsen would wrestle in Tacoma.
Staying at a hotel only a short drive from the vaunted Dome served as a tantalizing reminder of his experience one year ago around this time. He had failed to qualify for the state tournament, but went to cheer on his teammates. Watching from the sideline and stands became Madsen’s season-long motivation. He bought a sweatshirt from last year’s state tournament, he kept the ticket, the parking pass, and everything else that reminded him of where he wanted to be in his final season as a South Whidbey wrestler. Now that he was there, the totems were left behind, and with them, he hoped, the disappointment they represented.
“I left all of that stuff in my car,” Madsen said.
In the hours leading up to his first match, scheduled to start at 11:36 a.m. Feb. 21, Madsen said his mind would be on the mat. Everything else would be drowned out by a playlist he listens to that features up-tempo songs like Kanye West’s “Stronger” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” It helped distract him from the rest of the tournament, a scene of organized chaos with whistles being blown sporadically from across the mat-covered floor, people milling about, cheering and yelling.
Though the bracket was set Feb. 16, Madsen swore he never looked at it. Thinking about his opponents would not serve him on the mat, he said.
“[There’s] a lot of pressure,” he said. “I’m also really excited to do it. It’s been my dream for so many years … I’m trying not to get too stressed out about anything.”
Broyles’ bedtime story
The wrestlers, speaking while huddled around a cell phone from Tacoma, all acknowledged they had a 10 p.m. curfew Thursday night. It was a lesson learned all too well by Broyles.
Ahead of last year’s regional round, Broyles could not fall asleep and decided to work out to expunge some energy. It backfired, as the endorphins and adrenaline that coursed through him after a round of pushups and sit-ups kept him up into the early hours of the following morning.
He planned to be well asleep by 11 p.m. this time around, and dreaming about wrestling in the state tournament.
“I’ve definitely learned from that mistake,” Broyles laughed. “Ever since I began wrestling I have always dreamed of being at state.”
Broyles hoped to follow the footsteps of his brother Jordan, who he called his hero, in the state tournament. Broyles also wanted to outdo his older brother, a Marine in California, by making it past the first day, meaning Broyles would need to win at least one match Friday to advance. Broyles’ first match was scheduled for 11:44 a.m., and he said Thursday evening he would be imagining his brother spurring him on from the stands.
“What actually is going through my head is thinking about what my brother [Jordan] would be saying if he were at the match,” Broyles said. “That’s basically him yelling, ‘Don’t give up. Keep going.’ ”
Pierce Jackson, all 278 pounds of him, is generally docile. He’s the Falcon who hams it up for cameras at wrestling meets and makes jokes in the stands. None of that is unusual for a South Whidbey wrestler, but it stands in sharp contrast to his demeanor on a wrestling mat.
“I’m not usually an aggressive guy,” Jackson said. “Wrestling has helped with that.”
Later, he explained his mat-time metamorphosis: “When I really get angry, I don’t care about the dude … but I want to wrestle smart, wrestle strong, and not give in.”
His coaches noticed the change as the season progressed. Jackson’s transformation became apparent to Thompson and assistant coach Paul Newman — not the actor — at the regional round last weekend. Jackson won a couple of matches in convincing fashion, in his coaches’ eyes, to qualify as the fourth seed from Region 1.
Unlike his teammates, Jackson took a look at his 1A fourth-ranked first opponent, Duston Olson from Jenkins High School.
“It’s going to be a difficult first match,” Jackson said.
Qualifying for the Tacoma Dome would also be a couple of firsts for Jackson. It was the first time he was inside the stadium, and would likely be the first time his mother, who does not live on Whidbey Island, would see him wrestle as a high school student. Tumbling on the mats Thursday afternoon and walking around the stadium — taking in its size — helped settle his nerves.
“In my head, I had a lot bigger picture of what it was going to be,” Thompson said. “I thought it was going to be a grand spectacle.”
Broyles lost his first match 9-6 to Quincy senior Isias Jimenez. Madsen lost 7-3 to Medical Lake senior Ricky Petersen.