Nerves abound on Day 1 of Mat Classic XXIV

By Kevin Anthony, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 18, 2012 

Often times the toughest opponent a wrestler will face at Mat Classic is his or her nerves.

Take into account 32 mats, 1,200 wrestlers and thousands of fans thundering away inside the Tacoma Dome, and it can be a lot for a state rookie to deal with.

"It's easier this year," said Southridge junior 170-pounder Kevin Del-Angel, who experienced his first Mat Classic last season as a sophomore. "Now I have experience and I know what to expect. They're still tough matches."

Friday's first day of Mat Classic XXIV brought up some nostalgia for senior vets and some jitters for freshmen rooks. But the nerves are prevelant among all.

"I had some (nerves) my first match," said Pasco 138-pound senior Deondre Sparks, who is a state rookie in Washington but reached state wrestling for Grants High in Portland last season. "Every wrestler has some before a match. But once I got past the first round, I was ready to wrestle. And once I get to the third period, my ankle pick opens up."

So what is the best approach to take at state? Depends on who you ask.

"I like to wait a little bit, get a good feel for the match," said Kiona-Benton senior 132-pounder Matt McCallum, who will become a four-time state placer, "and if they push the pace, I push back."

Kamiakin junior 170-pounder Sisto Santana Pina recommended a different approach.

"You want to go out there and be aggressive, because the guy across from you is going to try to take it to you, because he wants to be a state champion," said Pina, who placed third at state as a sophomore. "These are an elite 16 guys, and they will push you."

Coaches join the club: The Washington State Coaches Hall of Fame is adding five new members, including two quite familiar with Mid-Columbia wrestling fans: Connell's Vard Jenks and Othello's Mark Kondo.

Jenks was a state champion for the Eagles in 1968 and returned to coach at Connell in 1979. During his 18 seasons, the Eagles had 55 state placers and won 14 individual titles.

Kondo grew up wrestling in Spokane and won Rogers' first state title. He coached at Whitworth College and then Ferris High before moving to Othello in 1995 to become the school's athletic director. Two years later, he became an assistant coach on the wrestling team, a position he still holds.

During his 15 seasons with the team, the Huskies have a 15-46 record in duals with eight league titles, 10 district championships, five regional crowns and five state trophies, including a state title in 2004.

The other three coaches added to the Hall are longtime Hudson's Bay coach Bob Lynn, Ed Brunz of Burlington-Edison and john Kullberg of Central Kitsap.

Heavyweights in the classroom: Chiawana senior C.J. Edrington (4A, 182 pounds) is one of six Mid-Columbia wrestlers to make the all-state academic team.

Edrington, who carries a 4.0 grade point average and is headed to West Point, is joined by Othello junior A.J. Garza (2A 113) and junior Julissa Valenciano (girls 112), and Columbia-Burbank junior Austin Dodson (1A 113), junior Dylan Thomas (138) and senior Jake Owen (160).

Another four-timer: Orting's Drew Templeman is trying to become the lastest member of the four-timers club (1A, 126).

The group includes eight boys and one girl -- Kiona-Benton's Sheridan McDonald became Washington's first four-time girls state champion last year.

In addition to those four-timers, 65 more are three-timers, including Templeman.

The club once was beyond prestigious when R.A. Long's Pat Connors became the state's first four-timer in 1994, 41 years after the first state title was awarded in Washington.

It took seven more years for the second: Tonasket's Martin Mitchell (1998-2001).

However, in the 10 seasons that followed, six more four-timers have been crowned, including at least one in each of the last four seasons.

The biggest difference: More state tournaments -- one in 1953, two in 1968, three in 1971, four in 1998 and six since 2008 -- means more champions and, with respect, a watered-down field. Consider that there are 1,200 wrestlers competing for titles. Just 15 years ago, there were 672 -- about a third the field.

Trio of three-timers: Three are in hunt of their third state title: North Kitsap junior Jake Velarde (2A 138) and Mead seniors Jeremy Golding (4A 145) and Jordan Rogers (182)

Team streaks: Deer Park is working on its fifth straight 2A state title, but the Stags are hardly alone in defending multiple titles.

Sedro-Woolley has won the last three girls titles, and Orting three consecutive 1A titles. Both the defending 3A (Enumclaw) and 4A (Lake Stevens) state champs are working on their second straight. But Enumclaw has won three of four since Sedro-Woolley won six in row. Lake Stevens has won four of five.

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