With the nation’s focus on the quest for Olympic gold, Twin Harbors wrestlers set their sights squarely on a different podium and the chance of a medal at Mat Classic XXX this past weekend.
When the final whistle had blown at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday, 18 grapplers from both Grays Harbor and Pacific counties had earned a place on the podium with a top-8 finish at the state wrestling competition.
A pair of wrestlers from North Beach earned the highest finish for both a male and female athlete from the Twin Harbors. Hyak sophomore Garrett Armbruster came away with a third-place finish in the 2B 126 pound class to equal the best placing for a Twin Harbors boy, while Natasha Fruh battled her way back to a third-place finish at 235 for the girls.
Close to half of the Twin Harbors placers finished in fourth. While no Olympian wants to finish fourth, on Saturday the placing was the reward for a season, and even career in some cases, of hard work for a list of athletes that included Aberdeen’s Skyler Murray, Elma’s Justin Sample, Montesano’s Andy Fry and Kai Olson, Ocosta’s Tucker Deranleau, South Bend’s Ben Byington and Aberdeen’s Tatum Heikkila in the girls tournament.
Montesano’s Ty Ekerson and South Bend’s Preston Lawhead each earned a fifth-place finish for their efforts over the weekend, while Montesano’s Aaron Lano and Carson Klinger, Raymond’s Jack Jordan and Aberdeen’s Faith Cardenas each placed sixth in their respective weight brackets.
Aberdeen’s Tyler Souphommanichanh and Hoquiam’s Lutra Felten both finished in seventh place and Elma’s Jacob Garcia was the lone eighth-place finish for the Harbor participants.
Montesano made it five straight years with a top-10 finish as a team. With five wrestlers placing in the top six, the Bulldogs earned a total of 73 team points to finish 10th overall in the 1A team competition.
The Aberdeen girls also edged into the top 20 with a 15th place finish. The Bobcats earned a total of 32 points to finish tied with North Kitsap, just three points away from a top-10 spot.
Armbruster’s quest for a title at the Tacoma Dome almost didn’t happen. On his headgear, Armbruster doesn’t have the Adidas symbol or a team emblem, but pictures of his friend Josh Walton. The two were wrestling teammates when Armbruster lived in Bremerton. Last year, Walton committed suicide and a grieving Armbruster didn’t know if he could continue on the mat.
Couple the loss of a friend with his family home burning down and Armbruster’s road off the mat became as hard as any match he faced this season. His family relocated to Ocean Shores and Armbruster began to find solace again in wrestling. He had his headgear made special so that Walton would literally be with him during every match and began his trek toward Mat Classic.
“Really none of it was for me it was all for (Josh),” Armbruster said. “It’s been a rough year and I’m just pushing through it to do the best I can, taking the best out of everything. I have been wrestling for 10 years now so I really never stopped, but at that point I wasn’t going to do it because I was really down and didn’t know what was going on in life. Then I talked to (Josh’s mother) and figured just do it for him if you are going to do it at all.”
After a first-round bye and an 18-4 victory on Friday, Armbruster’s semifinals match against Chris Rivera of Tonasket was his lone loss over the weekend. Rivera, the eventual state champion, was able to get a takedown 20 seconds into the match. Rivera flipped Armbruster onto his back, but the sophomore stayed in a bridge as long as he could. Unfortunately for Armbruster, Rivera nudged his shoulder and stuck him to the mat.
While time ran out on Armbruster’s quest for a title, he focused in and began his march through the consolation bracket with a pin in just 42 seconds in his next match. In the third-place match against Riley Fichter of Concrete, Armbruster led 2-1 going into the final period. Armbruster shot in to earn a takedown, but Fichter was able to get a reversal to cut the lead back to one point. With a little more than 30 seconds left in the match, Armbruster slipped away for an escape and earned a takedown to claim the 7-4 victory.
Fruh’s quest for a title has been a four-year journey. On her fourth and final trip to the Dome, Fruh ended the weekend with her best finish at a Mat Classic. Her title hopes were dashed on Friday with an 8-0 loss to Veronique Abaglo of Fife in the second round. Instead of giving up, Fruh battled through the consolation bracket. The senior left a wake of pin victims behind her on the way to a third-place rematch with Abaglo.
Trailing 3-2 with less than a minute to go in the match, Fruh was on bottom. As Abaglo tried to ride out the final seconds, Fruh was able to slide out and leap onto her opponent for a reversal and earn near fall points to take the 7-3 victory.
“I am happy I did better than last year,” Fruh said. “It is kind of a relief because I had been under a lot of pressure. I fought my way back in and actually earned it and it means a lot to me.”
Not all of the Twin Harbors participants were able to end their careers on a win. Murray, Sample and Byington all finished their season on the short end of a match, but with a spot on the podium.
Murray’s third-place match at 285 pounds in the 2A tournament with Sven Lukner of Sedro Woolley was one of the best bouts of the day. Tied 1-1 after the first minute of overtime, Lukner chose to start on bottom and earned an escape to go up 2-1. Murray chose bottom to start the next period and was running out of time when he was able to barrel roll out of Lukner’s grasp to tie the match once again. However, moments later, Lukner spun toward the boundary for an escape and a 3-2 victory.
“I came in pretty confident,” Murray said. “Overall, it was a great season and I think I proved many people wrong and proved what I am capable of. I’ve never dreamed of being here being in this moment.”
Sample led 5-0 seconds into the third period of his semifinal match with Nolan Doloughan of Freeman in the 138-pound bracket of the 1A tournament. But Doloughan was able to build up with his feet and swing around to pin Sample at the 5:15 mark of the match. Sample earned a pin in his next match to secure at least a fourth-place medal to finish out his career in the pinstriped singlet of Elma.
“(Justin) always wrestles with heart and always wrestles with class, being such a team leader,” Elma coach Adam Catterlin said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him for how he conducted himself and how he went out there and got in for third and fourth to improve on last year.”
Byington fell victim to Ozius Harden of Reardan in the first round on Friday, which started his trek through the consolation bracket to a fourth-place finish at 170 pounds in the B tournament. The senior worked his way through with a pin and a 14-3 decision before getting some redemption with a 12-5 win over Harden to earn a spot in the third/fourth-place match.
“(Byington) was sick last weekend, but this weekend after his first loss, it just kind of clicked for him,” Willapa Harbor coach Preston Crow said. “He didn’t want it to be his last match so he kept it going. He has one of the biggest hearts on the team and it pushed him through.”
For Montesano’s Fry (106) and Olson (170), their fourth-place finishes were proof that hard work pays off. Both wrestlers improved on their finishes from last year when Fry came in eighth and Olson failed to place. This year each of them recovered from second-round losses to place fourth.
“(Fry) made a big leap,” Montesano coach Jeff Klinger said. “He wrestled really well and is a great person for our young kids to look at because he stuck it out and has done what he needed to do to get two placings and next year who knows what he is capable of. Kai went to a two-week camp this summer and you can look at Kai and he earned his medal this summer. He is a tough kid and has the physicality and toughness, it is just about developing that mat time.”
Deranleau put in plenty of hard work over the weekend, rebounding from a first-round pin to put together three straight decisions and finish in fourth at 220 pounds in the B tournament.
Heikkila’s fourth-place finish in the girls 190 pound class completed a journey that took her from stepping on a wrestling mat for the first time at the beginning of the season to the podium at Mat Classic. The freshman pinned both of her opponents on Friday, but was pinned by eventual state champion Ofa He Lotu Tuifua in the semifinals. Heikkila earned a 5-3 decision to secure a spot in the third/fourth-place match, but was pinned early in the second round by Ashley Kile of Yelm.
“(Heikkila’s) first time at practice was her first time ever stepping on a mat and we knew she was athletic and strong and she just improved as she went on,” Aberdeen girls coach Craig Yakovich said. “She is a force to be reckoned with in the future.”
Lawhead was off many radars in the 132-bracket of the B tournament, including his coach’s, to start the Mat Classic. The junior spent most of the season on the JV roster, but made the most of his shot at a state title. Lawhead earned wins by decision in both of his matches on Friday and battled back from a loss to eventual state champion Kaleb Horn of Lake Roosevelt to take fifth with a pin of Davenport’s Justin Chapman.
A couple of freshman mistakes marred Ekerson’s tournament. After a loss to the eventual state champion at 113 pounds Jeff Friedman of Lakeside Nine Mile Falls, Ekerson dropped another decision before defeating teammate Aaron Lano 8-1 in the fifth/sixth-place match. Lano fought his way back from a first-round loss to earn three straight decisions and earn a spot on the podium.
Jordan’s tournament at 152 pounds could not have gone more differently between Friday and Saturday. The junior earned a pin in his lone match on Friday, but couldn’t seem to gain momentum on Saturday. Jordan lost a 10-3 decision to Thomas Perryman of Reardan in the semifinals, which started a spiral of two more losses.
Cardenas and Klinger both improved on their finish from last season to take sixth. Cardenas has been a participant for each of the past two Mat Classics, but found her way onto the podium at 100 pounds for her final trip to the Dome. She lost a second-round bout to the eventual state champion Taylor Wilson of Hanford before clawing her way to a spot in the fifth/sixth place match, which she lost 3-1 to Melanie Flores of Moses Lake.
Klinger earned two pins on his way through the consolation bracket on Saturday before losing the fifth/sixth-place match for 152 pounds to Diego Isiordia of Granger 8-0.
Tyler Souphommanichanh and Lutra Felten each finished their seasons with a win to take seventh in their respective brackets. Souphommanichanh pinned Robert Gomes of North Kitsap in the second period to win seventh place at 126 in the 2A tournament.
Felten lost a consolation match to Fry 2-1 to put him in the seventh/eighth-place match against Marvin Calmo of Nooksack Valley. The senior was able to pin Calmo in the second round to end his career in a Hoquiam singlet on a high note.