Johnson finishes third at state

After going two-and-out as a junior last year, a determined Dustin Johnson refused to suffer the same fate last weekend at Mat Classic XV.

After suffering a loss in the first round of the state wrestling tournament at the Tacoma Dome, South Kitsap’s 125-pound senior wrestler won his final five matches in the consolation bracket to capture third place.

Juniors Micah Kipperberg (130 pounds) and Pat Kelly (145) placed seventh to round out the team scoring, enabling the Wolves to finish 11th as a team.

SK’s Brandon Kelly (112), Craig Senter (140), and John Cisney (152) failed to place at state.

Kelly, a sophomore making his first appearance at state, lost a tough 2-1 match to Inglemoor’s Chris Meister and lost a 6-5 decision to Southridge’s Louis Haberling.

Senter suffered a neck strain in his first-round loss to Moses Lake’s Zach Dompier and had to cut his first state appearance short with an injury default.

Cisney opened his first state tournament with a a 5-3 decision over Aaron Rogstad of Lake Washington, but lost to eventual state champion Quinton Josie and then suffered a heartbreaking 8-6 loss to East Valley’s Mike Nicholson in the consolation bracket.

But Johnson was the story of the tournament.

There is no tougher road to third place than starting in the first round of the consolation bracket.

After losing to Central Valley’s Brad Bolcom 8-0 Friday morning, Johnson rebounded Friday night with a pin against Auburn’s Tyler Roshau and a 9-1 major decision over Auburn-Riverside’s Jadon Redding.

That pushed Johnson into Saturday’s competition, and he did not disappoint.

Johnson played aggressive defense against Rogers’ Tom Simmons to win 3-1.

Johnson’s next opponent was a familiar one.

Johnson, facing Olympic’s Ryan Wheeler for the fourth time this year, trailed 9-7 with less than a minute to go in the match.

But when opportunity knocked, Johnson answered with a pancake move that put Wheeler on his back for the pin.

After losing the last two matches to Wheeler, Johnson said it felt great getting the win when it mattered most.

“It’s not like it was revenge, but it was a a win I really wanted to get,” Johnson said. “I used a move I haven’t used all this year, but I felt it and it just kind of hit me (to try it).”

Johnson capped his wild run in the consolation bracket with a tough 7-4 decision against talented Wenatchee freshman Tim Whitney.

SK coach Ron Hudiburg said Johnson didn’t start rolling until the third period of his consolation first-round match.

Johnson, who struggled during sub-regionals and regionals, had been battling footwork through the season.

“One thing is when I tie up with another guy it makes my legs real crooked and my opponents take advantage of that,” Johnson said. “So the rest of the day I wouldn’t tie up with anybody.”

Hudiburg said the coaching staff had been aware of this for a couple of weeks but didn’t know what to do to correct the problem.

Hudiburg said he finally came up with a solution after the first day of state.

“We kind of changed his style a little bit and it helped,” Hudiburg said. “I wish we’d have done it sooner. There was a certain thing he was doing and we stopped him doing it. His defense improved and it didn’t allow people to score on him much.”

Hudiburg was also happy to see Kelly and Kipperberg place at state, after both went two-and-out as sophomores last year.

If the juniors make it back to state next year — barring any injuries or upsets — it will mark the first time since the 1995-96 season SK has two returning state placers.

Despite placing, both wrestlers felt they should have placed higher.

“I’m glad I placed but I wish I would have placed higher,” Kelly said. “I still have another year to go, so I’ll be all right with that for now.”

Kipperberg said he wishes he could go back and wrestle Grant Nakashima in the quarterfinal match, which he lost 10-6.

“I should have beat that guy, but he out-scrambled me,” Kipperberg said. “I didn’t wrestle my best so I took seventh. Now my goal is going to be higher next year.”

Kelly, who doesn’t have to worry about diet during the football season, said there is some relief to the season being finished.

“It’s strange that it’s over but I’m glad because there will be no more watching my weight for another eight months,” he said.

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