In their own ways, all three were underdogs.
They could have been counted out for their youth, their inexperience, their lack of wins from the year before.
Yet freshman Drew Aposhyan, junior Clay O’Brien and sophomore Kobe Balora beat the odds and all three are headed to the Tacoma Dome.
They finished in the top four at the 1A Region 2 tournament Saturday at Sultan High School and will compete in the Mat Classic on Feb. 16-17. They’ll also be joined by junior Alex Turner, who finished fifth at 170 pounds and is an alternate.
Aposhyan, who finished third at 113 pounds, is one of only two Falcon freshmen in more than decade to qualify for state.
“I didn’t really know what to expect today,” Aposhyan said. “I’ve heard a lot of different things about what regionals is like.”
Fittingly, he beat a senior in the first round with a 13-2 victory over Tyler McCormick of Cle Elum-Rosyln.
Aposhyan was right where he wanted to be in the semifinals against Naches Valley’s Devon Gantt — on his feet — when the two went into sudden-death overtime.
But, in a flurry of action, it was Gantt who sealed the victory with a takedown.
Aposhyan dropped to the consolation bracket where a win meant an outright berth to state and a loss would leave him on the outside looking in as an alternate.
He erased that possibility when he pinned Goldendale’s Ivan Cazares in the second period.
He finished third with a 6-1 decision over Mount Baker’s Eli Freeman.
“It’s amazing,” Aposhyan said. “I can’t believe I did this as a freshman. Coming into today, I knew I just needed to focus on every match. I lost my second one, but I bounced back. I’m going to state and I’ll try to place as high as I can.”
He’ll face Castle Rock junior Ryan Marcil in the first round, who is ranked eighth in the state according to the Washington Wrestling Report.
O’Brien is a first-year wrestler and brand new to the sport.
The starting linebacker for the Falcon football team delivered hard hits on the gridiron throughout the fall.
He decided to turn out for the sport to fulfill a promise to Falcon wrestler Aryeh Rohde and because of the encouragement of assistant football coach and former head wrestling coach Jim Thompson.
Learning the intricacies of wrestling, from the minute details of technique to conquering the fear of being alone on the mat, is difficult as it is. Having success is another thing all together.
But O’Brien achieved both, said first-year head coach Robbie Bozin.
“He came in with natural toughness,” Bozin said. “He was pretty raw…he gained technique and wanted to learn. He’s a very, very coachable kid and he makes coaching a breeze. He just wants to learn and get better.
That’s what he’s been doing and he’s going to state.”
O’Brien opened the tournament with a pin over Zillah’s Christophe Molina in the 182-pound bracket. He lost to Molina’s teammate and second-seeded Fermin Martinez 11-1 in the semifinals.
Faced with the same pressure as Aposhyan, he punched his ticket to state with a pin over Sultan’s Talik Skyler just as the referee was about to signal the end of the second period.
“It just feels great,” O’Brien said. “I’m just working hard and going out there and doing my best. What happens, happens.”
He finished third with a 27-second pin over Highland’s Jorge Villafan. O’Brien drew sixth-ranked Tyrone Mendez of Warden in the first round at state.
Balora didn’t win a single match as a freshman.
He took some more lumps this season, but a third place finish in the 1A District tournament on Feb. 3 kept his state hopes alive.
He beat Zillah’s Jose Alenjandre 7-5 in the first round at regionals, but was pinned by Meridian senior Manny Sabalza in the semifinals.
He led Nooksack Valley’s Juan Melero 1-0 with 13 seconds left in the match, but was in a more precarious position when he received a stall warning.
The next stall call would tie the match and send it to overtime.
But Balora held on for the victory and later finished fourth. He’ll wrestle junior Akio Yamada of Lakeside Nine Mile Falls, who placed sixth in 2017, in the first round.
“Considering from where I was last year, it’s a huge improvement,” Balora said. “Coming into this year and going to state feels great.”
It will be Bozin’s first trip to the Tacoma Dome, much like his wrestlers. He said he’s excited to see what all the fuss is about.
“It hasn’t hit me yet, being a first year (coach),” Bozin said. “But I couldn’t be more proud.”