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TACOMA — The Port Angeles wrestling team is on a mission.
The Roughriders are expecting to win the 2A state championship.
Longtime coach Erik Gonzalez doesn’t beat around the bush about that.
“Our guys want to win state, it’s not good enough to place,” he said.
“This team is different from others that were happy just to be at state.
“This team is hungry. They have set some high goals from the very beginning of the season.”
So far, there has just been one minor blip on their march through the wrestling landscape this season.
The Riders went undefeated and won the Olympic League dual-meet championship for the second consecutive year.
They also won every weekend tournament they wrestled in this season.
But then they played second fiddle to Olympic High School in the subregional tournament in their own gym.
The Riders came back with a vengeance at the regionals, however, capturing their first regional championship at Bremerton High School while leaving Olympic and the other top regional teams in the dust last weekend.
And that was with a few disappointing performances from the Riders.
Don’t expect that this weekend as the state championships open today and conclude Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
First-session action starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. today with the second session, the quarterfinals, set for 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. today.
The third session is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. starting with the semifinals and ending with the third- through eight-place matches.
The finals begin at 5:15 p.m. Saturday. If everything goes to plan, expect a few Riders in those title matches.
When asked what can be expected from the Riders at state, Gonzalez said: “We expect to go out and wrestle our best.
“We expect state to be our best tournament. We want to peak in this tournament.
“We believe we can wrestle better than [we wrestled at regionals]. We feel good about ourselves.”
Winning the state title is no pipe dream for these Riders.
The team is ranked third going into state and advanced every regional wrestler to state.
Port Angeles has the most entrants, 10, of any 2A school in state.
The era of just feeling good to be at state is over for the Riders.
“I expect all 10 wrestlers to win at least one match,” Gonzalez said.
“It takes only two wins to place. All 10 could place.”
If all 10 wrestlers do place, it would be hard to beat the Riders out for first, although top-ranked Deer Park and second-ranked Othello have several wrestlers ranked at or near the top, especially in the lower weights.
“We feel we have a shot,” Gonzalez said.
It would help the Riders out if they can get some fan support at the state tournament, he added.
“This would be a good year to check the state tournament out. It’s our school’s 50th year and the 25th year of Mat Classic.”
The state organization of high school sports, WIAA, is planning a big party at the Tacoma Dome this weekend in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Mat Classic.
“It’s such an exciting event,” Gonzalez said. “We’re hoping everyone comes down and supports us, to see what it’s all about.”
Gonzalez noted that the Mat Classic is the largest high school wrestling tournament in the country.
The Riders lost a couple of regional title matches by one point. They may need to win those this time around to capture that elusive team championship.
Port Angeles has its strength in the lower and upper weights with very little muscle in the middle.
The Riders’ top wrestler is 170-pound senior Brian Cristion, who has only three losses on the year and is ranked No. 3 in state.
Cristion, who captured fourth place in state last year, was second in regionals after losing 4-3 in the title match to nemesis Aaron Dickson of Kingston.
Dickson beat Cristion 9-1 in the subregional semifinals to become a thorn in Cristion’s side.
At state, both Dickson and No. 1-ranked Anton Yates of East Valley (Yakima) are in the opposite side of the bracket from Cristion, meaning the Rider wouldn’t meet either one until the final match.
In the meantime, he goes against No. 11-ranked Tevin Hiatt of Ephrata in the first round and likely No. 6-ranked John Santos of Steilacoom (seventh at state in 2012) in the quarterfinals, and then up in the semifinals most likely will be either fourth-ranked Taylor Watkins of East Valley (Spokane) or fifth-ranked Zeke Gaeta of Olympic.
In those early matches, the quarterfinals looms as the biggest, Gonzalez said.
“In the quarterfinals match, the second match, is a tough kid,” he said. “In the semifinals is a kid he has beaten before.”
Cristion could end up with family bragging rights. His older brother, Nathan Cristion, took fourth at state his senior year in 2011 with only four total losses (the All-Peninsula MVP) and was eighth at state the year before.
Also most likely to make the finals for the Riders are sophomore Matt Robbins, ranked No. 4 at 182, and senior Michael Myers, ranked No. 5 and regional champion at 285, where he claimed eighth place last year at state.
Robbins has a tough side of the bracket, though, as he goes against tough No. 6-ranked Ramsey Davis of Washington in the first round (fifth in state last season), and lurking in the semifinals is No. 1-ranked Elias Mason of Cheney, third in state a year ago.
Others to watch for the Riders are regional champion Ozzy Swagerty at 126, and regional runners-up Brady Anderson at 113, Josh Basden at 120 and Roberto Coronel at 220.
Taking third at regionals were Tyler Gale at 106 and Kyle LaFritz at 220, while Eric Wahl claimed fourth place.
In addition, the Forks Spartans will be trying to make a mark in the 1A tourney with 11 total state wrestlers, nine boys (not counting alternates) and two girls.
Spartans to watch at state are Joel Ward at 220, Sebastian Morales at 106, Ricky Barragan at 138, Alvaro Ortiz at 113, James Salazar at 160, Miguel Morales at 285, Garrett Brito at 106, Javier Contreras at 126 and Luke Loveless at 285 for the boys.
Making state for the girls are Brooke Peterson at 145 and Tristen Williams at 106.