SK sends six to state

Ron Hudiburg’s “half-rule” isn’t an exact science.

But the South Kitsap High School wrestling coach sees the same fate of his team every year at regionals.

Whatever number of wrestlers SK sends to regionals, close to half of those entrants will have their ticket punched for the state tournament.

This year SK sent 18 to regionals last weekend at Foss High School, with six qualifying for Mat Classic XV and another three wrestlers earning alternate spots.

The alternates go to state and weigh in like the rest of the wrestlers, but it is unusual for an alternate to go to the mat .

“We’ve never had one wrestle at state,” Hudiburg said.

SK not only showed its strength at regionals with a second-place finish behind Heritage, but it gave spectators a glimpse of the future.

Only two of the six state qualifiers—Dustin Johnson (125 pounds) and John Cisney (152)—are seniors.

Juniors Micah Kipperberg (130), Craig Senter (140), and Pat Kelly (145), and sophomore Brandon Kelly (112) round out the state squad.

Two of SK’s three alternates are also underclassmen.

Sophomores Jake Iuliano (103) and Grant Sampson (135), along with senior Casey Watkins (189) will get their first taste of the atmosphere that surrounds the Tacoma Dome.

Kipperberg defeated Olympic’s Matt Gipson to earn the lone regional championship.

Kipperberg said winning the regional wasn’t the toughest task over the weekend.

“The only difficult thing I had to do was wrestle my teammate (James Thompson),” Kipperberg said. “That wasn’t too fun.”

As for the road to state, Kipperberg, who lost both of his matches at state last year, said it’s all about being mentally prepared.

“You just have to get yourself in a mental state that you’re going to win,” he said. “I go out there and wrestle my best. If you lose, you need to get your mind on the next match and get down on yourself.”

Senter and Kelly came close to joining Kipperberg as regional champions but had to settle for second place.

Cisney took advantage of his fate and placed third after pinning Heritage’s Kewae Holt.

Cisney made it to the consolation final thanks to a little help from an old rival.

Top-seeded Josh Martinelli of Central Kitsap was disqualified from the tournament after he threw two flagrant elbows at Dusty Long of Mountain View in the semifinals.

Martinelli, who won all three matches against Cisney, would have wrestled Cisney in a winner-to-state, loser-out match.

Johnson was one of SK’s state hopefuls that nearly saw his career end prematurely.

After losing to Olympic’s Ryan Wheeler 12-6 in the second round on Friday, Johnson had to come back Saturday and win three matches in a row to earn a state berth.

In the final loser-out match, Johnson survived a 1-0 win over Heritage’s Jake Farmer to make it to the consolation finals.

Johnson responded with a resounding 16-0 technical fall against Heritage’s Cory Getchell to place third.

Johnson said he understood the importance of his match against Farmer.

“I knew it could possibly be my last match,” Johnson said. “My coaches kept telling me to leave it all out there. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy the second day because this was a tougher bracket than last year.”

Senter made a great run through his bracket, defeating No.2 seed Brett Nelson of Skyview 2-1 and Evergreen’s Jon Porter 9-5, before getting pinned by top-seeded Steve Werner of Mountain View.

In Kelly’s championship match against top-seeded Joel Mack of Heritage, Kelly trailed 3-1 until he pulled out a reversal as time expired in regulation.

But Mack pulled out a takedown in overtime to earn the victory.

Hudiburg said this year’s group of state-bound Wolves is a stronger group than he’s had in recent years.

“We didn’t get any cinderellas,” Hudiburg said. “These kids all earned it big time. They put the time in, worked hard, and came down here and beat people.”

Kipperberg, Kelly, and Johnson are returning state participants, while the rest will be making its first trip to the state tournament.

Johnson said state experience plays a big role in a team’s success the following year.

“All three of us, when we walked in the Tacoma Dome last year, you could tell we were scared,” Johnson said. “It’s mentally fatiguing just seeing it all happen. I’m feeling better about this year and I’m confident.”

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