When the final match of the Mat Classic state wrestling tournament ended, the referee raised senior Blaine wrestler Mike Antczak’s hand, crowning him the heavyweight champion of Washington.
Antczak’s win sealed the state title for the Borderites, a team that had battled its way to a championship through teamwork
and sheer determination. Dozens of Blaine athletes, coaches and fans rushed the mats in the Tacoma Dome and embraced Antczak in a group hug. It was a moment that Craig Foster described as the highlight of his 23-year career as head coach of the Blaine wrestling team.
“It was pretty incredible. We were all jumping around, and I’ve never seen so many tears of joy. I’m not sure if it was all the hard work or the fact that it’s such a tight-knit group,” he said. “Probably a combination of both.”
The Blaine boys wrestling team won the 26th Mat Classic February 22 with 110.5 points, narrowly beating Forks’ 109 points. Eight Blaine wrestlers earned medals by placing in the top six for their division. Olivia Adams earned third at 130 pounds in the girls state wrestling tournament, bringing the total number of Blaine state medalists to nine. Wrestlers in almost every weight division earned points for Blaine, but victory was far from a sure thing. The Forks Spartans, with whom the Borderites tied for eighth place last year, were in the lead for much of the day.
In a rare build-up of suspense, the victory came down to the final two matches. The 220-pounder from Forks, Joel Ward, had
to lose his match. Then Antczak had to win the 285-pound championship.
“I’ve never seen it where the last match of the whole tournament decides who wins it,” Foster said.
Ward lost a 4–0 decision, and the hopes of an entire team fell squarely on Antczak’s shoulders. Those hopes had been building throughout a season that could be summed up with one word: teamwork. Wrestling may be an individual sport, but a team state title had been a singular goal for the team since before the season began. In the offseason the Borderites went 16–0 at the Camp of Champions at Central Washington University.
“That kind of opened our eyes to the fact that we had a team that could do big things,” Foster said. As the season progressed, it quickly became apparent that the team’s best asset was its breadth of strong wrestlers who weren’t superstars, but who stepped up when needed.
“We had only had one returning state medalist from last year, [Antczak,] so it was basically a bunch of unknown kids who worked hard all season to get here,” Foster said. “If someone had a bad day someone else was always there to fill the gap. The teamwork aspect has been really cool to see. We’ve had good teams in the past, but we’ve never had a team this balanced.”
Balance was key to winning the state championship, as every point Blaine earned was necessary to best Forks. Foster said Tristan Hunter’s performance at state was an example of how big performances from athletes in tough matchups have propelled the Borderites all year.
“Hunter really stepped up to win his first two matches. Without his sixth-place finish, we wouldn’t have won. That’s how it’s
been all year; everyone has contributed,” Foster said.
Nine Blaine wrestlers won matches Friday to earn team points, an individual state medal and a chance to keep wrestling on Saturday. Kyle Gonzales (106 lbs.), Riley Fritsch (126 lbs.) and Hunter (170 lbs.) each finished sixth. Christian Sharp (152 lbs.) and Anthony Frey (132 lbs.) both finished fifth. Caleb Frey (138 lbs.) finished fourth. Olivia Adams (130 lbs.) finished third. Jon Stewart (160 lbs.) finished second, and all of those finishes led to Antczak’s championship match, with the Borderites still trailing by a few points to Forks.
As the match approached, Antczak showed no signs of nervousness.
“I was staying calm with him telling him to just have fun and wrestle, and coach [Jim] Rasar was joking around with him and keeping him loose,” Foster said. “I’m going in as a coach not knowing what to expect, but [Antczak] was just dialed in throughout the whole tournament. I liked the look in his eyes when he went out there.”
The Blaine senior dominated the match against Chewelah’s Dustin Olson. Antczak won a 5–1 decision to win the individual championship and take the Borderites to their first state title since 1990.
Antczak’s win was the ultimate cap to an intense and emotional weekend, Foster said. The Mat Classic squeezes more than 2,000 rounds of wrestling into two days, and often a team will have several athletes wrestling at the same time.
“You might have someone lose a match and you want to help put them back together, but you have to move on to the next match. We had some good rounds and some tough rounds, and every win was important. If we’d lost any of those, we would’ve lost the tournament.”
In a rare free moment, Foster was able to watch Adams win her consolation match for third place. The entire boys wrestling
team gathered around to support her as well.
“She’s every bit a part of our team as any boy. I was really proud to see her win a quality third-place medal, and next year she’ll be looking to get the big one.”
Senior Jon Stewart capped his incredible season with a second-place medal. He won his division in the Northwest Conference, sub-regional and regional tournaments and won three matches by decision in the Mat Classic, but fell to Quincy’s Antonio Melendez 3–1 in the final. Stewart didn’t medal at state last year, and worked hard in the weight room and on the mats to improve dramatically this season, Foster said.
Foster was named the Washington state coach of the year for the fifth time. Coupled with the first team state title of his career, Foster said he couldn’t be happier with how the tournament went.
“It went phenomenally well,” Foster said. “I’m really proud of our guys and our other coaches, and it’s a really satisfying feeling.”