Nerves are key to extended stay

By Kevin Anthony, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 16, 2012 

There is nothing demure about the Tacoma Dome when Mat Classic comes to town.

Some 1,200 wrestlers will descend on the dome starting Friday to sort out who is the best of the best in the "world's oldest and greatest sport" (shout up to Ed Aliverti, the stalwart announcer for the event until his death in 2010).

With them they will bring a few extra teammates for workout partners, a batch of alternates hoping someone will slip up on the scale or break out on the skin, coaches, fans, parents and rooters of all sort.

Thirty-two mats will take over the floor of the dome, which will be a bustling hive with scorekeepers and referees and officials and media buzzing about the six simultaneous state tournaments.

And it is in this cacophony of chaos that competitors need to be at their best. Sometimes, it's tougher for a state rookie to wrestle his (or her) nerves than the opponent.

Some handle it well. Some go in with eyes wide -- and usually for a short stay.

So what is the key to getting your nerves in a cradle?

One state veteran has some advance.

"Treat it like just another tournament," said Hanford senior 170-pounder Joe Traverso, who felt a few nerves during his first trip to state two years ago.

Easier said than done, no doubt. But the key, Traverso said, is not to think about 32 mats at once, but just the five or six in the corner hosting your particular class.

"Those five mats you're wrestling on are just like any other gym," Traverso said.

Over the course of a season and through the years, wrestlers become accustomed to being surrounded by action, learn to ignore whistles and shouts coming from other mats.

And that Tacoma Dome crowd, 10,000 strong? Sounds a lot like the echoing shouts of a small gym or a confined wrestling room.

Teammate Casey Enderlin, who has sat in the stands in previous seasons but will be getting his first action on the mat come Friday, said his plan involves a lot of tunnel vision.

"It's like going across a rope bridge," he said. "Don't look down and don't look up."

Mid-Columbia contingent: Some 112 wrestlers from area schools will take the mats this weekend, with another 32 alternates on hand.

The largest group by far belongs to Warden. The Cougars have 12 wrestlers set to defend their Class 2B/1B state title, including returning state champs Javier Tapia (120 pounds, won at 112 last year) and JP Martinez (126, won at 119).

Additionally, Warden is bringing eight on the girls side, including four regional champions.

Othello also has a strong crew, with nine in the 2A boys tournament and six more in the girls.

Among the larger schools, Sunnyside has six in the 3A ranks; Chiawana and Moses Lake each have five in the 4As.

Been there, done that: Fifty of the area wrestlers are making at least their second trip to Mat Classic, including 32 who previously brought home state medals.

Among that group are four guys trying to become four-time placers, two of them in the same bracket.

Kiona-Benton's Matt McCallum and Royal's Danny Barajas likely will each add that fourth medal to their state haul in the Class 1A 132-pound division.

McCallum, who won the regional title over Barajas, placed fourth at 130 last season after previously finished second and eighth at 119.

Barajas, who won the district title over McCallum, is a returning state champ (119) and placed fifth at 119 and 112 as a sophomore and freshman.

Barajas is one of three area state champs, joining Warden's Tapia and Martinez, who also are the other two three-time placers. Martinez is a three-time finalist, finishing runner-up at 112 and 103 his first two seasons.

Moses Lake's Nico Moreno and Othello's Joey Gomez know the feeling of coming close but settling for second. Moreno twice has lost in the 4A title match and is favored to win the 152 crown this time.

Gomez, a heavy favorite at 220, finished second at 189 as a junior and sophomore.

Moreno's Chiefs teammate, junior Beau Gleed, is a No. 1 seed at 120 and likely to become a three-time placer, as are fellow juniors Alex Myrick (160) and Damien DelaRosa (182) for Royal, and Adam Hansen (189) for Warden.

Kamiakin junior Sisto Santana Pina (170, 3A) is making his third trip to state and hoping to improve on last year's third-place finish at 160.

Sunnyside's Nathan Gonzalez (126, 3A) is on his fourth trip to state. He failed to place last year at 119 after finishing second at 103 as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore. Sophomore teammate Jesse Barajas (106) finished fourth at 103 last year.

w Kevin Anthony: 582-1403; kanthony@tricityherald.com

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