Wrestling crown up for grabs

Wide open.

That’s not a phrase that has been closely associated with the Class 4A state wrestling tournament in years past. But as Mat Classic XVIII starts up this weekend in the Tacoma Dome, parity rules.

And from the South Kitsap perspective, that’s just fine.

With one of their strongest lineups in years, the Wolves have a chance to capture the school’s first-ever team wrestling title tonight as state champions in all 14 weight classes will be crowned.

Since many of the state’s top programs have qualified the exact same number of wrestlers, the team tile will be unusually close for a change.

“We have seven guys (going) and if all seven wrestle really well, then I believe all seven can place,” South Kitsap coach Chad Nass said. “And I think this year it will take a flawless performance by one team to win it.”

If there is a favorite this year, it would be Auburn. Of the seven wrestlers that qualified, four were finalists last year at their respective weights, giving them a slight edge.

But with South, Lake Stevens and University High — all regarded as state powers — having qualified an equal number of wrestlers, the team title is up for grabs.

Nass added that he doesn’t expect to see a team score more than 100 points this year. Last year, University won the team title by scoring 135 points while Lake Stevens was second at 118 and Auburn third at 98.5. South finished tied for sixth with 55 points.

Nass said there are up to 10 teams that have qualified about the same number of kids this year, meaning any of those teams could win it all. Or, he added, any of them could have a bad showing and finish out of the top 10. It’s that close.

“I think we are one of those teams,” Nass said. “If we wrestle well, we’re going to have a shot. Does that mean we will win it? I don’t know, but we’re going to be in the mix.”

And having two seniors that placed last year heading the group doesn’t hurt.

South is instantly considered a top 10 team because Brent Chriswell and Josiah Kipperberg are back for another run. Chriswell won the 171-pound title last year for South while Kipperberg placed fourth at 103 pounds.

Both entered Friday’s first round as the top seeds in their respective weights – Chriswell is undefeated at 189 pounds this year while Kipperberg has lost just three times at 112.

“Brent and Josiah both placed real high last year and my expectation is that they will both place high again,” Nass said.

Chriswell, who could become the school’s first-ever two-time champion, should have an uneventful run into today’s final, where he could face Mariner’s Mohammad Mustafa, while Kipperberg could get an early test by facing Auburn’s Matt Sencenbaugh in the quarterfinals. Sencenbaugh knocked off Kipperberg last year in the semifinals.

And while those two are expected to score well for the Wolves, the team’s fortune will most likely rest in the performances of the five state-newcomers – Brady Winslow, Kurtis Fenton, Orry Perez, Jesse Barich and Dylan Watkins.

“They are the key to this whole thing,” Nass said. “They are the ones that really need to step up.

“Some people might say that’s putting pressure on them but I don’t really believe that,” Nass said. “They have, individually, high expectations of themselves. I really think that if they have a great tournament, like they did at regionals … we’re going to be right in the mix.”

Winslow was second at regionals at 145 pounds while Fenton (103), Perez (171) and Barich (140) all took third with Watkins (160) placing fourth. And they are all hoping to at least duplicate those finishes at the Dome.

And they are hoping the attention that Chriswell and Kipperberg have gotten all year long works to their advantage.

“Other teams know we have Brent and Josiah but that’s all they think we have,” Barich said. “So they are probably estimating their points but they don’t know about us.”

Perez has really come into his own over the last two or three weeks, both in practice sessions and at tournaments. His combination of strength and athleticism has been giving opponents fits lately, and the confidence he has acquired by finishing first and third respectively in the sub-regional and regional tournaments has done wonders for his game.

Winslow is brimming with a newfound desire to succeed while Barich has stayed under the radar despite placing in the top three in just about every tournament he has participated in. Fenton and Watkins are also kind of unknowns across the state, which could work to their advantage.

“You can’t just be satisfied with getting to state, you have to go for more,” Winslow said. “Like coach says, ninety percent of those kids are satisfied by just getting to state. We have to be the ones that are looking to get beyond that and place.”

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