Fresh off the heels of a 60-12 victory over Nooksack Valley on January 11, the Borderites headed to Bellingham to participate in the annual Northwest Conference Championships at Sehome High School on Saturday, January 14.
Blaine took home an impressive third-place finish out of 13 teams.
“There were a lot of tough teams, including a lot of competition that we will see at districts,” Blaine wrestler Caleb Johnson said. “It was fun to perform that well against our Whatcom County rivals.”
The top five finishers were as follows: 1) Mount Baker (232), 2) Mount Vernon (200.5), 3) Blaine (181), 4) Burlington-Edison (135.5), and 5) Sedro-Woolley (134).
Johnson was one of four Borderites to advance to individual championship rounds. He defeated Mount Baker’s Tyrel Cronk 9-4 to clinch the 195-class final – a close match, despite the final score.
Trailing 3-2 in the third period, Johnson pulled an escape from the bottom position, immediately following with a takedown at 40 seconds remaining.
“It was really close; the other kid was really strong,” Johnson said. “I was up 7-4, and in the last couple seconds he went in for a takedown. I sprawled and got around him, ended up getting back two points to win 9-4.”
Blaine coach Craig Foster said he was very pleased with his team’s performance, especially given the level of competition on display.
“It’s a pretty darn tough tournament. Mt. Baker is very strong this year, and Sedro-Woolley and Mount Vernon have very good teams as well,” Foster said. “So with 13 teams there, including some traditional powerhouses, we had a pretty good performance.”
Shaypher Hendricks was the only other Borderite to win an individual championship, defeating Sedro-Woolley’s Kyle Morgan 15-6 to seal the 145-lb division final. Foster said Morgan took fifth in state last year.
Blaine sophomores Kyle Gonzales (106) and Mike Antczak (285) both advanced to final-round play but were defeated in the championships.
Gonzales was pinned by Mount Vernon’s Nathan Allen and Antczak was pinned by Mount Baker’s Alex Postlewait.
Foster was quick to note the upside of Antczak and Gonzales’ defeats.
“[Antczak] got pinned in the finals pretty quickly, but he beat a highly ranked Sedro-Woolley heavyweight in the semi finals,” Foster said. “The guy who pinned him (Postlewait) is ranked first in the state.”
More noteworthy, Foster said, was Gonzales’ breakout performance.
“[Gonzales] made the finals and beat a couple of really good kids along the way. He ended up getting pinned, but it was a 5-5 match before he got caught on his back,” Foster said. “He had a great tournament. I’d say it was by far the best he has wrestled this season, and he was kind of ‘the’ wrestler of the tournament for me in terms of stepping up one’s game.”
Gonzales said it was some time away from wrestling that might have boosted his performance.
“I had just got back from a trip to California, so I hadn’t been very active,” Gonzales said. “For some people, that may weaken them, but I think I benefited a lot from having some time off.”
Now that state competition is less than a month away, Gonzales said the team will be kicking into high gear to finish out the season.
“It’s going to be tough,” Gonzales said. “We are going to have a lot of live wrestling in the wrestling room and some technique sessions, but mostly wrestling and conditioning.”
Foster said it’s important to get the kids as much live wrestling practice as possible in preparation for the postseason.
“Earlier in the year you tend to do a lot of teaching and taking your time in a slower-paced environment,” Foster said. “Now, it’s a lot less teaching in favor of one last conditioning push and a lot of live wrestling practice to get ready to compete well in the postseason.”
Blaine’s next action is at Lynden High School on 9 a.m., Saturday, January 21, at the Lynden Tournament.