Chiawana wrestlers primed for another district title

January 31, 2013 

That “new wrestling room” smell has long since faded at the power plant that churns out Chiawana wrestlers, replaced by the stale smell of old sweat.

The white walls overlooking the dark blue mats and padding no longer are bare, with banners from two league and one district championship, the names of four state participants who did not place, and seven plaques holding coveted spots on the wall of state placers.

Chris Montelongo looks at that wall, and a big grin spreads across the face of the Riverhawks’ 113-pounder.

“I was the first placer,” Montelongo says. “Then Nick (Garcia), then Daniel (Ramirez). But I put up the first placer.”

From a program that started with no seniors and no varsity regulars in 2009-10 to one that hasn’t lost a league dual in two years, is favored to win the Class 4A District 5 tournament Saturday in Walla Walla and expected to challenge for a state trophy in two weeks — the Riverhawks have made a quick ascent in Washington’s wrestling ranks.

Coach Jack Anderson gives much if not most of the credit to the nine seniors, the first class to spend all four years in the Tri-Cities’ newest high school. And none more so than Montelongo, Boss Garcia and Austen Silvers.

“You could tell when they walked in as freshmen, they’re natural leaders,” Anderson said. “Their friends follow them, even their buddies who are seniors follow them.”

On the mat, they are studs. All three are state veterans: Montelongo a two-time placer (seventh last year, sixth in 2011), Silvers seventh at 170 and Garcia a participant at 145 last season.

They are ranked in the top four in the state: Montelongo is 22-8 and ranked second at 120 (he is dropping down to 113 for the postseason), Garcia (17-6) fourth at 152 and Silvers (24-6) third at 182.

Montelongo and Silvers are among Chiawana’s six No. 1 seeds for districts along with Eli Sikes (106), Laiten Schroeder (132), Clayton Smith (145) and Martin Villanueva (285). Garcia is one of eight Riverhawks seeded second.

Off the mat — or more to the point, in the wrestling room — they still are studs, leading their team through morning workouts before school, all the off-season training, camps, freestyle, etc.

Anderson said part of their character comes from having to overcome personal setbacks.

“Freshman year I almost quit,” Garcia said. “It was all new to me — the hard work, the morning practices.”

Going 0-2 at districts didn’t help, but his coaches talked Garcia into sticking with it into spring workouts, keep lifting, keep going to camps.

“Little by little, I liked it more and more,” he said. “Sophomore year, I went to state as an alternate. I put in all the hard work. Junior year, I went to camps, wrestled freestyle, and I got to state and went two-and-out.”

This year, he said, his goal is simple: state title.

Silvers’ tough moment came his sophomore season, when he tore the muscles in his shoulder on the front, side and back at the Pac-Coast Championships in Vancouver, Wash.

“It was a long ride home, a long talk,” he said of deciding whether to stick with his beloved sport. “It was the ninth time I dislocated that shoulder — I can’t do no more.”

But he did, rehabbing his way back to placing at state last year, though he had his mind set on something bigger than seventh.

“It wasn’t good enough for me,” Silvers said. “I should have been top three. But it was a relief for me. The hard work, the hours at the gym with a personal trainer, the hours here (in the wrestling room). ... It was a monkey off my back.”

Montelongo’s test came as the Riverhawks’ 103-pounder his freshman season ... when he weighed maybe 95 pounds.

“It was an eye-opener,” he said, noting that he got thrown around pretty good by the likes of Richland’s Josh Andrew and Davis’ Alexio Garcia.

But as he grew into the weight as a sophomore, he became one of the area’s dominant wrestlers and (via his weight) the school’s first placer in 2011, minutes before Ramirez and Nick Garcia, Montelongo’s cousin.

“It was awesome,” he said, practically dancing back and forth with the memory. “It was great; best experience ever. Placing at the state tournament was the best feeling in my wrestling career.”

There are other team firsts still to achieve: first to finish higher than fourth, first state champion.

“Everybody has the same goal. Everybody wants to be the first state champ, everyone wants to be the first team to blank another team,” Silvers said. “It definitely pushes you to see Daniel Ramirez and Nick Garcia up there. You want to be the next person to break fourth place, break third place, second place, be a state champ.”

As a team, the Riverhawks have made no bones about it: Their goal is to win the big trophy. It’s a bold play for a program that never has finished better than 17th. Going into the postseason, they are ranked seventh among 4A teams.

“The goal we set three years ago was to be a state title team,” Boss Garcia said. “We put in the work. Coaches told us what it takes to become a state title team.”

Added Montelongo: “I think it would be awesome to be part of the first team to (win a title). We can do it. We have enough guys capable.” Whether they win a state title, Anderson said, this group has left an indelible mark on the program.

“The journey has been great,” he said. “I told these guys over and over again, ‘If you don’t accomplish the goals you set, if you’re not state champs, if you go this weekend and get put out at districts, it’s still worth the ride’. They’re still phenomenal young men.

“They want to be state champions. They want to win a state title so bad. But if that doesn’t happen, they did a great job. They had a great ride together, and I’m so proud of them.”

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