Mat mettle: Four Tigers reach medal stand, team takes 10th

TACOMA – The most painful place of all to finish at the state tournament is second, no matter how deserved the accolades for doing so might be.

Tonasket’s Austin Booker was close enough to a state championship to taste it, leading 4-3 heading into the third and final period of his state title match against Levi Godinho at 160 pounds.

But in the final two minutes Godinho (of Castle Rock) scored an escape to tie and a takedown to take a 6-4 lead. With the final seconds winding down and Booker having to take chances to tie it, Godinho pinned him and thereby clinched the state title.

Booker’s performance, along with medal-winning efforts by Jorge Juarez, Jeff Stedtfeld and Collin Aitcheson, boosted the Tigers to a 10th place finish as a team. It was the Tigers’ best team finish since taking eighth in 2010 and a far cry from last year’s 25th place performance.

“The Tonasket wrestlers ‘came to wrestle,’” said Tonasket coach Dave Mitchell. “(We) had a great following of supporters in Tacoma and it was a very emotional and good time for our community. Thanks to all who went to Tacoma and supported our wrestlers.”

Booker (160 pounds) was not viewed coming into the tournament as a favorite for the championship. Though he’d made State as a sophomore, he missed most of last season with an injury and entered this year’s tournament with only a pair of State losses two years ago to lead on for experience.

By taking second at regionals, a medal seemed a probability, but four regional champs were slotted to have an edge, at least by their seeding.

Booker opened with a tough 8-3 decision over Tom Odneal of Ilwaco and held off Royal’s Emilio Bustos 9-4 in the quarterfinals to get to a semifinal showdown with Gabe Bunker of LaCenter, who had been dominant in his opening two matches (a pin and a 20-3 technical fall).

Booker, who had admitted to being nervous prior to the tournament, realized he had a shot at the title after defeating Bustos.

“After my first match, I became a lot less nervous and slowly started getting more comfortable,” he said. “By the finals I barely noticed all the attention.

“After my second match, I knew that guy was a real contender and I pretty much worked him over. I realized that it didn’t matter who I had; I was going to win it.”

Booker may have been confident, but had his family and friends gripping the Tacoma Dome’s upper deck railing as he battled Bunker to a 2-2 tie through two periods, and led 4-3 before getting two near-fall points as the match ended.

With a seven hour wait between the semifinals and championship, there was plenty of time for nerves to return, but Booker said the confidence built up by winning his early matches kept him calm.

“I realized I had accomplished what a lot of people haven’t,” he said. “Oddly enough, when I was warming up on the mat for the finals, I wasn’t nervous. It felt like every other match I’ve had.”

Booker drew first blood on Godinho with an early takedown but allowed an escape to lead 2-1 after the first period. A Booker takedown followed by a Godinho reversal left it 4-3 heading to the third, but with about 20 seconds left and trailing by two points, with Booker on his knees, it was decision time, and it didn’t go the way he’d hoped.

“Instead of taking the chance and trying to throw him – which ended horribly – I wish I woulda stood up and taken my chances on my feet,” Booker said. “Maybe that would have had a better outcome.”

As it was, Godinho got Booker on his back and ended the match seven seconds early.

And though Booker cracked only the briefest shadow of a smile while on the medal stand, he still managed to stand tall, head and shoulders above all but one other in the state.

 

The comeback kid

There’s no doubt that Jeff Stedtfeld, for all his success, has had the roughest of seasons.

The 126-pounder entered the year with high expectations after qualifying for State last year, but when his grandfather, Dennis Lorz, passed away under tragic circumstances early in the season, the difficulties of real life became a bigger obstacle than anything on the mat.

But with his tight-knit family surrounding him – often literally, in emotional post-meet group hugs – Stedtfeld fought his way back to the Tacoma Dome, where his fourth-place finish was tempered mainly not topping his brother’s performance from a year ago.

As could be expected, that was a family thing; Jared finished fourth last season, and the two will have to settle for the tie.

“I knew it was a tough, competitive weight class going into the tournament,” said Stedtfeld, who also celebrated his 18th birthday with a few thousand of his friends in the Tacoma Dome on Saturday. “So my goal was to win, but walking away with fourth place is not too bad… It would have been nice to have bragging rights (over Jared), but oh, well. We both finished fourth, so it’s OK.”

Stedtfeld opened with a pair of solid wins, defeating Ramses Rodelo of Warden 13-6 in the opener and Anthony Frey of Blaine 15-5 in the quarterfinals.

If there was one thing that went against the Tigers this weekend, though, it was the luck of the draw as Stedtfeld joined teammate Collin Aitcheson in facing a two-time state champion in his semifinal match.

For Stedtfeld, that was Cascade Christian’s Josh Crager, who controlled most of the match before winning with a pin at 4:57.

That set Stedtfeld up for an intriguing final two matches of his high school career. The first came against teammate Jorge Juarez, who thanks to an overtime loss in his previous match dropped into Stedtfeld’s consolation bracket.

At the end of the 10-3 decision, Stedtfeld’s hand was raised in victory even as the two embraced at center mat.

Stedtfeld faced off in the third place match against Klint Brown of Lakeside, to whom he’d lost 14-4 in the regional final a week earlier. This one went much differently; though Stedtfeld trailed 3-0 heading into the final two minutes, he cut Brown’s lead to one point before time ran out.

“I gave it my hardest; that’s all I can ask for,” Stedtfeld said, acknowledging that those were words his grandfather would have said to him. “He would have told me, ‘Good job,’ and as long as I tried my hardest, that’s all that matters.”

 

Hitting the wall

Usually “running into a brick wall” refers to an athlete running out of energy. In Collin Aitcheson’s case, there was nothing wrong with his own performance. But the brick wall, in the person of Joshua Salcedo, proved impregnable.

Salcedo (120), a defending two-time state champ (and now three-time titlist) ended Aitcheson’s state title dream with a quick pin 1:26 into the state quarterfinal match.

Aitcheson is experienced enough to know what he was getting into. Not only did he win a state tournament match a year ago, he wrestled freestyle last spring rather than run track, and qualified for the USAW Junior Greco Nationals last summer. So when Aitcheson said, as he did about Salcedo, that they don’t come any tougher than the Granger champ,it carries some weight.

“He’s probably one of the toughest guys I ever wrestled,” Aitcheson said. “He’s strong, fast and kept moving. Definitely one of the best I’ve ever wrestled.”

Aitcheson usually is the quicker wrestler in his matches, but not against Salcedo, whose combination of speed and technical proficiency put him on another level entirely. He would likely have been a state title challenger in any of the larger school divisions.

Salcedo finished his career 15-1 in state tournaments with just a championship loss as a freshman keeping him from the pantheon of four-time winners honored at this year’s Mat Classic. He finished his senior title run with three pins and a major decision victory in the title match.

After the Salcedo match, there was still business to be done for the Tonasket junior. Aitcheson bounced back with an 8-1 victory over Blaine’s Gage Lott to assure himself of a medal, and got past Carson Horton of Castle Rock 3-0 to avoid the seventh place match.

That pitted him against Hootie Judd, a 14-4 victor over Aitcheson in the regional title match. The rematch played out much differently, ending deadlocked at 3-3 before Judd scored a takedown in overtime to advance to the third place match.

“I felt like I outlasted him,” Aitcheson said. “I knew in the third period he was more tired than I was. But it just didn’t go my way.”

Aitcheson finished with a 10-1 victory over Rochester’s Bobby Brien to claim fifth place.

“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “My goal was to finish at least fifth, and I got fifth.

“As the season got longer I started setting goals: getting to the tournament, winning the tournament. But I really just wanted to do my best here, and it was definitely better than last year.”

 

The freshman

If Tonasket’s Jorge Juarez (126) and Granger’s Adrian Morales stay in the same weight class as they move through high school, the 2013 state tournament could be the beginning of quite the high-level rivalry.

The two freshmen provided some of the most compelling drama of the weekend in a pair of white-knuckle, down-to-the-wire finishes. Morales won both matches, keeping Juarez from finishing significantly higher than the sixth place he did earn.

It was an impressive feat by a pair of freshmen on the biggest stage for the first time.

“He had a great tournament,” Mitchell said.

“I wasn’t expecting to get sixth,” Juarez said. “I thought State would be a lot more difficult than the regular season. It turns out it really was. It was a lot more of a challenge.”

Juarez and Morales locked horns in their first match of the weekend. After wrestling to a 7-7 deadlock through the first two rounds, the lead changed hands several times in the final two minutes and twice in the final 15 seconds. Morales pulled off a reversal at the final whistle for a 14-13 victory.

That left Juarez in a deep hole as far as earning a medal, needing two wins just to get to the second day of action. But he fought back with an 8-2 win over Javier Contreras (Forks), a second round pin of Ilwaco’s Corbin Sutherland to advance into the medals, and an injury default victory over Ramses Rodelo which ended with Juarez up 9-0.

Juarez still had a chance to finish as high as third, but had to get through teammate Jeff Stedtfeld for that to happen. His 10-3 loss to Stedtfeld set up a rematch with Morales. And that seemed to be firmly in Juarez’s favor as he led 7-2 late in the third period. But in the final seconds, Morales turned Juarez’s aggressiveness against him, pulling off a reversal and three point near-fall to force overtime. Moralez quickly ended the match with a takedown in the sudden death extra session.

“It was good to get the experience,” Juarez said. “I’m happy. I just need to work on the little mistakes, because you can’t do them here.”

 

Getting his feet wet

John Rawley (195) had dreamed of attending the Mat Classic as a participant since he started attending at age seven. His first taste of state competition lasted just two matches, undoubtedly leaving him wanting more.

“John ended the season with 26 wins,” Mitchell said. “It was a great improvement from last year.”

Rawley was pinned in the second round at 3:03 of his first match by Zach Wardle of Woodland. His tournament came to an end when he was pinned in the second round of his consolation match by Ruvim Tyutyunnik of Riverview.

 

Big day for CTL

The Caribou Trail League had a banner day overall, nabbing three of the top 10 spots in Class 1A. Quincy finished second to state champion Granger, with Chelan fifth and the Tigers tied for 10th. CTL state champions in included Gabe Alejandrez and Gabe Martinez of Quincy, as well as Chelan’s Erick Garcia and Asa Schwartz, while Brewster’s Nykia Mariscal was a runner-up in the girls tourney.

Brewster’s girls were also honored for their team academic state championship.

Also, Tonasket alum Martin Mitchell (coach Dave Mitchell’s son) was among the nine former Mat Classic legends honored as four-time state champions. North Kitsap’s Jake Velarde became the 10th to join the elite group on Saturday.

Check out our website at www.gazette-tribune.com for more photos and results of familiar wrestling friends and foes from around North Central Washington.

 

 

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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