Christmas is around the corner and Santa is warming up the reindeer, which means two things for the wrestling world.
First, the holiday tournament season is at hand, which in the Tri-Cities always includes Pasco’s Best of the West and Hanford’s Winter Cup.
The two-day Best of the West starts at 9 a.m. today at Pasco High with the traditional team tournament, followed by Saturday’s individual brackets.
Last year, Caldwell, Idaho, topped Hermiston for the title, while Mountain View beat Chelan for third. All of those teams except Hermiston are back along with Idaho powers Lewiston and Post Falls.
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On the local front, the host Bulldogs, Chiawana, Southridge, Walla Walla, Kiona-Benton, Royal and Connell will take part in the team duals.
The Winter Cup is set for Dec. 28 at Hanford High, the same day of the Royal Christmas Tournament, which is one of the best small-school gatherings this side of the Tacoma Dome.
Second, the holiday break signals an interlude in the Mid-Columbia Conference schedule.
Chiawana and Richland head into the break 3-0. The teams square off Jan. 17 at Richland, but before that comes a sibling rivalry bout Jan. 3 when coach Jack Anderson’s Riverhawks take on coach Jordan Anderson’s Kamiakin Braves (1-2).
Richland, meanwhile, has a couple of potentially tough duals with Southridge (2-1) on Jan. 3 and Pasco (1-2) on Jan. 10.
Chiawana has been powered by a lineup with more postseason experience than any other Mid-Col team. Ten wrestlers have regional experience, inlcuding returning state veterans Chris Montelongo (sr., 120, two-time state placer), Clayton Smith (sr., 145/152), Boss Garcia (sr., 145) and Austen Silvers (sr., 182).
The Bombers may not have extensive postseason experience — only Pryce Seely (jr., 138) and Cameron Simpson (sr., 170) have wrestled at regionals — but have been getting strong performances from the likes of Mitchell Bieber (jr., 120), Noah Workman (sr., 132) and Cody O’Toole (sr., 195).
Pasco moves up from Class 3A back to 4A and will do so with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. However, one of those sophs is Timmy Martinez (126), who was a regional champ at 120 last year and placed seventh at state.
Also, the Bulldogs got a boost when Brandon Gonzalez (sr., 132) moved into the district after wrestling at state for Chiawana in 2011 and qualifying for regionals the last three years. Additionally, Xavier Tobias (sr., 126), Dalton McDonald (sr., 132) and Jackson Fromm (sr., 160) all have regional experience.
Walla Walla (0-3) is off to a tough start in the dual season but has plenty of talent in state veteran Luis Santana (sr., 220) and regional vets Wil Babbitt (jr., 126), Zach Anderson (sr., 160), Zane Hendrson (sr., 182), Logan Reardon (sr., 220) and Quinn Piver (sr., 285)
The 3A race should be a close one, with Southridge, Hanford (1-2) and Kamiakin having an edge in experience.
Kamiakin returns the league’s only state champ, 182-pounder Sisto Santana Pina, a three-time state vet who won at 170 last year. Teammate Harley Kolp (sr., 138) also is a two-time state placer, and junior Jr. Pina (145, Sisto’s brother) qualified for state last year as well.
In addition, Tyler Almaguer (so., 106), Cesar Castillo (sr., 120) and David Lozano (sr., 132) have regional experience.
If Kamiakin has the returning champ, Southridge looks to have a serious contender for a state title at 195 pounds in senior Kevin Del-Angel, who placed sixth at 170 last season.
While Del-Angel’s is the Suns’ only state vet, Trenton Nett (so., 120), Kory Miller (sr., 170), Bryce Overholt (jr., 182) and Luke Davidson (so., 285) are returning regional qualifiers.
Hanford also returns a state guy in Will Bishop (jr., 182/195) to head five regional veterans: Shane Breitenfeldt (so., 113/120), Ben Hoffner (sr., 132), Brennan Rains (sr., 138), Michael Parkman (sr., 138/145), Jeff Anheier (sr., 160) and Jeff Weyand (jr., 220).Kennewick (1-2) has some ground to make up but has a strong core in three-time regional veteran Michael Hosfield (sr., 126/132) along with fellow regional vets Ty Smith (jr., 138), Todd Pink (jr., 195) and Robby Calvert (jr., 285).
With a new league comes a new look for the postseason for both the Class 3A and 4A teams.
The 4A schools combine with the Greater Spokane League and their old friends in the Big Nine for a regional with four berths to state. However, since the Big Nine schools have a larger percentage of the student population than the other two leagues, the Mid-Col and GSL No. 3 seeds at each weight will pig-tail against each other for a regional berth, while the Big Nine automatically gets three berths.
That will create a hitch at the district tournament, with the third-place team getting a crack at the loser of the championship match for the second seed.
In the 3A ranks, the four Mid-Col schools and Sunnyside each will get a berth to sub-regionals at each weight, and a JV tournament will determine the other three berths. Those eight will join eight from the GSL for a 16-man bracket.
The top five from sub-regional automatically move on to regionals against the Westco, with the east-side No. 6 facing the Westco No. 3 in a pigtail. The top four from regionals qualify for state.