Unpredictable and unforgiving, steady and rewarding, the high school state wrestling championship offers a little bit of everything.
Auburn Riverside coach Kyle Jones knows as much.
The Ravens, having won three consecutive 4A North Puget Sound League Olympic Division dual and tournament titles, ran into expected challenges at a grinding, expanded Mat Classic XXXI at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday.
Some wrestlers floundered, others flourished.
“We wrestled OK today,” Jones said. “I wished we could have been in the top 10, but the 32-man bracket kinda screwed that up a little bit. We missed out on points, but we did a really good job. I’m proud of our team.”
The WIAA doubled the draw for each weight class, a move necessitated after a major snowstorm wiped out last week’s regional tournaments. Larger fields meant more bouts that stretched the plans of coaches, tested the patience of fans and pushed the performances of wrestlers at a prolonged mat show played out well into the night.
Auburn Riverside, like other teams, adjusted and came away with mixed results.
Jaden Cassel, a 113-pound junior and the Ravens’ lone finalist, came up short to Sunnyside freshman E.J. Villanueva, 7-2.
Cassel, the NPSL Olympic champion, scored a reversal to close to within 3-2 after the first period. Cassel, choosing the down position to open the second round, couldn’t break away from Villanueva’s grasp and fell behind 5-2. Villanueva, who opted to begin the third period in the neutral, standing position, took down Cassel in the closing minute to secure the title.
The bout ended with Villanueva sticking an elbow into the back of Cassel’s neck. An angry Cassel stormed off the mat, refusing to shake hands with Villanueva but congratulating Sunnyside coaches. Villanueva’s antics cost his team a point.
“He was talking to me at the end of the match,” an emotional Cassel said afterward, “but he shouldn’t have done that.”
Cassel nonetheless lauded Villanueva’s persistence.
“He’s tough … (applies) a lot of pressure,” Cassel said. “He’s good.”
The disappointing finish capped a solid season for Cassel, who vows to return stronger next year.
“I have to keep working, come back better,” he said. “I don’t want to leave (anything on the mat). I want to dominate next year.”
Other Raven fortunes
Cassel’s sparring partner, 120-pound senior Yusef Nelson, a state runner-up at 113 pounds last season, advanced to the quarterfinals, where he dropped a 12-6 decision to Lake Stevens’ Matthew Johnson. Nelson then met elimination after an 8-4 setback to Davis’ Elijah Acevedo in consolation.
“It was real hard for him to rally. He ran into a very tough kid in the quarterfinals,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t change anything. He just got upset in the quarters and couldn’t rally back. It didn’t quite work the way we wanted. … He’s had a pretty incredible career.”
Nelson is one of only three wrestlers to place at state three times in Auburn Riverside program history. Past state champions Eric Jones and Mike Mangrum were the other two wrestlers to do it.
Auburn Riverside had three other place-winners. Eyvar Robles finished fourth at 285 pounds, Ethan Pedro was fifth at 195, and Will Russell finished eighth at 220.
Robles, a senior, and Pedro, an unranked junior, advanced to the semifinals before winding up in the consolation rounds. Russell, who finished eighth at state last year, competed with a limited, sore right shoulder.
“We knew (Pedro) was coming on at the right time, but to get fifth at 195, he did just an incredible job,” Jones said. “And Will Russell? He basically placed at state with one arm. … Robles has been a big giant, a top kid for us all year at heavyweight. We knew he had a chance to make some noise and to get fourth place in a real good heavyweight division, he really did a great job.”
Lion roars back
Auburn Mountainview senior Brennen Hanson recovered from a tough 4-3 semifinal loss to Kentwood’s Alex Long to finish fifth at 152 pounds.
Hanson took a 3-0 lead after two periods, then rode Puyallup’s Jace Coulter in the final two minutes to deliver a 6-0 decision in the fifth-place match, capping a solid 36-3 season.
“I’m glad I could finish on a high note with a win,” said Hanson, who finished fourth at state at 138 pounds last season.
Auburn Riverside finished 13th in the team chase, 2½ points out of the top 10. Chiawana of Pasco ran away with the 4A team title. … Of Auburn’s eight wrestlers who competed at state, seven were able to win at least one match at the tournament. Six of those eight wrestlers – and three of four state alternates – are expected to return next year for the Trojans. … The state finals, originally scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Saturday, went off at 7:45. … More than 2,400 wrestlers from six classifications competed over the weekend.