A fair to middling group

They draw comparisons to the most successful team in South Kitsap wrestling history. And before they’re done, they may themselves go down as the most successful wrestling team in South Kitsap history.

Heading into today’s Class 4A Region 2 tournament at Bremerton High School, the Wolves’ chance at history will come down to the success of the team’s middleweights: Brandon Kelly, Micah Kipperberg, Kyle Coppinger, Craig Senter, Pat Kelly and Brent Chriswell. It’s a group that has been dominating its opponents throughout the year and recalling the 1995-96 South team that placed second in the state tournament.

“These six guys, they are the core of the team,” South assistant coach and former state champ Chad Nass said. “It takes everyone, but these six guys in particular, because it tends to build momentum. Pretty much all year long, they tend to get things going and the other guys look up to them because they tend to be natural leaders, too. They tend to kick-start things.”

That group has jump-started the Wolves drive for that elusive state title by leading a pack of 13 qualifiers for today’s regional tournament. The top four placers in each weight class move on to the state title next week in Tacoma.

And the comparisons, when they are made, don’t bother this group at all.

“That team finished second in state, and that’s kind of the pedestal everyone tries to get to,” said senior Pat Kelly, who won his 152-pound weight class at last week’s sub-regional tournament. “That’s where you want to be.”

“I haven’t really heard much about the older teams,” Chriswell said. “I’ve heard people say we have one of the toughest teams South’s ever had.”

The group is well on its way, carrying on a tradition of strong middle weight classes.

“As a whole, I’d say our strength has always been in the middle,” Nass said. “I don’t think we focus on it so much. It just seems we tend to get our best athletes at those weights. The better the athlete is, you can develop them into better wrestlers through the years.

“In the eight years I’ve been a part (of the program), this group is by far the best,” Nass said. “(Coaches Ron Hudiburg and Dave Dyess) will talk about the class of ’95-96, but this group is definitely the best. And what’s nice about it is where the 96 group was senior laden, this group is a mixture.”

Senter, who competes at 145; Kipperberg, who goes at 135; and Pat Kelly are seniors. Brandon Kelly, who won the 130 division last week, and Coppinger, going at 140, are juniors and Chriswell, champ at 160 last week, is the lone sophomore.

“That just happens to be where our real experience was this year,” Hudiburg said. “They have the most experience and those are the kids with the best records. In ’95-96, we were real solid in about the same weights. We’ve had some solid guys at that weight range.”

But not the experience that comes with Pat Kelly, Kipperberg and Senter, who have been varsity wrestlers for four years, and all were state qualifiers last year.

The group has slowly gotten better as the year progressed, but each still brings a certain individuality to the team.

“Brandon is extremely mentally tough,” Nass said. “Out of the whole group, probably the onerous one. When he gets a mean streak going, look out.”

That’s a trait he seems to have gotten from his older brother.

“Pat is the ultimate gamer,” Nass said. “He just lights up. He is such a competitor. His intensity, he’s intense all the time. Guys will accidentally head butt him and it just fires him up. I’ve learned through the years that you don’t want to upset him when you wrestle him.”

Kipperberg and Senter are the so-called nice guys of the group, until they get on the mat.

“I think people overlook Micah,” Nass said. “Because of his demeanor, he seems so nice. But when you talk to him, he’s got some fire under him. He’s a tremendous competitor and his strength is underestimated. He’s a lot stronger than he looks.

“Craig’s another one that’s a sleeper,” Nass said. “He’ so unassuming in his demeanor. He’s probably one of the politest people you’ll ever be around. And you look at him and he’s just Craig, he’s doesn’t look intimidating physically. He doesn’t blow people out of the water. He’ll win 6-2 and you think that it might have been a close match. But if you really look at it, you’ll see he pretty much dominated all facets of the match.”

Coppinger and Chriswell both come from a family of wrestlers and each is sound in their approach.

“Kyle is a guy that is all offense,” Nass said. “He’s very, very fundamentally sound. He’s been well coached through the years, he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s fun to watch because he’s just wide-open offense.

“Brent, what do you say?” Nass laughed. “I wish I could say I taught him everything he knows, but I can’t. What a great athlete. Without a doubt, the most polished sophomore I’ve ever seen since I’ve been coaching, and I’d go out on a limb and say the most polished sophomore South Kitsap’s ever had. He’s a great competitor and he has the drive and all the tools to go as far as he wants to go. The sky’s really the limit with him.”

But for now, the team is the thing and this one seems to have something the others were lacking.

“Whenever it’s time to step it up and go do a job, they just go do it,” Hudiburg said. “And I fully expect to see that the next two weeks. I think we’ve got numbers this year that can make it to state, and I think we’ve got the kids that can move out front pretty far. We haven’t had that kind of capacity since 1995-96, where we’ve had both highly rated kids and also a number of kids that can do something. That’s what you have to have to place. You gotta get them there, and then they have to score.”

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