Sports

SK's Chriswell may be school's best ever

Chad Nass had heard the stories many times before.

The South Kitsap wrestling coach, like others, shrugged off the tales about a junior high wrestler who had moved to town from Oregon and was so good he couldn’t wrestle other kids his age for fear of putting them in the hospital.

Nass was told this ninth grader could beat high school-level wrestlers if given the chance. Of course, he had heard that before, many times, and had seen them all flame out.

But when Nass spent a few minutes grappling with the new kid at his first practice as a sophomore, he left the South mat room with just one thought in his head: “That’s the best kid we’ve ever had.”

Three years, 106 wins and two state titles later, Brent Chriswell has done nothing to disprove Nass’ evaluation.

“He lived up to the hype, the expectations and in some ways, surpassed them,” Nass said a week after Chriswell became the first-ever South Kitsap wrestler to win two individual state titles. “Just to watch him compete is very impressive.

It seems unlikely Chriswell should be the first wrestler from the tradition-rich South Kitsap program to earn two state titles. But he accomplished that last week with a 9-7 win over Mohammed Mustafa of Mariner in the finals of the 189-weight class at Mat Classic XVIII.

Chriswell won his first title as a junior, taking down the seemingly unbeatable Michael Johnson of Tahoma in the finals of the 171-pound class, avenging a loss to Johnson at 160 pounds during his sophomore season. It’s safe to say that had he wrestled at a different weight that first year, he would be one of the state’s few three-time champions.

Still, competing in three finals in three years while compiling a career mark of 106-4 is most impressive. Even more impressive is his 106 wins, 94 of which came by pin.

“I was taught to pin,” said Chriswell, who will attend Purdue University on a wrestling scholarship next year. “When it’s there, I go for it.”

There are coaches in the South Kitsap locker room who would have done just about anything to get Chriswell on their field of play. His build and athleticism would translate nicely to the football field or basketball court.

He has incredible footwork, one South coach has said, while another talks about his physical build.

Nass said it’s Chriswell’s unique combination of sheer physical strength, solid balance and flexibility that sets him apart from others. That and a level of competitiveness far above anything Nass has ever seen before.

“When he gets on the mat, he is just extremely competitive,” Nass said. “He’s in a different zone than everybody else. And I think that’s what really separates him.”

To know Brent Chriswell is to know two very different people.

Brent Chriswell the kid is just that — a kid.

He is wonderfully goofy at times, showing an innocence that elite athletes rarely let others see.

He’s not afraid to laugh at himself or walk around school with an odd-style haircut. Or show up to practice wearing blue dress socks.

He freely admits to watching cartoons after school and on weekends and says he gets some of his incredible wrestling moves from things he sees on TV.

But once Brent Chriswell the wrestler shows up, fun time is over, especially for his opponent.

Unlike most kids his age, Chriswell does not walk around with an I-pod blasting whatever form of inspirational music is the popular choice into his head. He stays away from the mats, sleeping if he gets the chance, until about an hour before his match.

Then he starts to focus, almost seeing the match move-by-move in his head.

Then he gets the look on his face.

“When he gets into that zone, he’s not even remotely close to the same person he is prior to getting on the mat,” Nass said.

That much is obvious in the way Chriswell reacts after matches. When he defeated Mustafa last week, he was so businesslike, it seemed he didn’t care that he had won.

“Actually, I don’t even remember the match,” Chriswell said. “It’s all just a blur to me.”

But that emotion quickly gave way to Brent Chriswell the kid, who shared his victory with everyone around him by giving away his shoes and his championship medal. In fact, every medal he won during his senior year was given away to either family members, coaches or close fiends.

Brent was a sixth grader when his father Wade first introduced him to the sport of wrestling. The first couple of practice sessions left him a bit concerned.

“We took him into this room of champions and they just beat him up,” Wade Chriswell says of Brent’s introduction to the sport. “We’d come out of there and I wondered, ‘What did I do to him.’ But he just kept going back for more.

“After a period of time, it just took,” Wade Chriswell continued. “Some of the dads started telling me, ‘Your kid has what it takes.’ ”

Six years later, Chriswell has been labeled, by some, as the most dominant athlete in his sport in the long history of South Kitsap athletics.

He is the best wrestler the school has ever produced and may be the best-ever wrestler to come out of Kitsap County

“What’s he’s done is unparalleled,” Nass said. “For (what he’s accomplished at South Kitsap) he’s definitely the best wrestler we’ve ever had. He’s just a freak.”

And while the state titles are nice and the career record may never be touched, it is the way Chriswell has handled himself throughout his high-school career that has his father and coaches most pleased.

Nass said Chriswell was more of a loner his sophomore year, choosing to ride home from matches and tournaments with his family. Now, they can’t get him off the team bus.

He not only wrestled well his senior season, he helped his teammates along the way.

But to his father, it was the way he carried himself that stands out the most.

“For me, it’s the way he won and lost,” Wade said. “To me, I think he always won with class and he always lost with class. And I think that showed a lot about his character.

“Hopefully, there is someone coming up that will break his record,” Wade Chriswell added. “But the way he conducted himself on and off the mat, that will stay with me.”

Highlights of Brent Chriswell’s South Kitsap wrestling career

2003-04: Loses to Michael Johnson of Tahoma in the finals of the 160-pound match at Mat Classic XVI, becoming the first sophomore in South Kitsap school history to advance to a state title match. End season with a record of 31-3.

2004-05: Defeated Michael Johnson of Tahoma 4-3 at the Mat Classic XVII to win the state title at 171 pounds. Season record of 36-1. Also won titles in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling at the Fila Cadat National Tournament in Chicago and also placed third in a National Freestyle Tournament in Las Vegas.

2005-06: Defeated Mariner’s Mohammad Mustafa 9-7 at the Mat Classic XVIII to win the state title at 189 pounds and become the first South Kitsap wrestlers to win two individual titles and win back-to-back state titles. Season record of 39-0, 33 wins by pin. Signs letter of intent to attend Purdue University.

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