PORT TOWNSEND — Port Townsend wrestling coach Stephen Grimm said it was quite a task to keep Redhawk Dylan Tracer and Chimacum’s Kyle Caldwell from killing each other this year.
They weren’t enemies. Far from it. But, they were both hyper-competitive and among the best wrestlers in the state. And they both made each other better during those battles in empty gyms with few people watching.
Those battles helped lead to the duo making history for both Port Townsend and Chimacum. And half the pair has the opportunity to make even bigger history next year.
Tracer and Caldwell both made it to the championship matches at the Mat Classic state wrestling championships in their respective weight classes. Both had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get there.
And because of their accomplishments, Tracer and Caldwell have been selected as the All-Peninsula wrestling co-MVPs.
Tracer, who also took first place at regionals, made it to the state finals at 182 pounds while Caldwell made it to the state finals at 195 pounds. Neither was able to win their championship matches, but Tracer is more than happy how his season ended and Caldwell, a junior, has a chance to win it all next year.
Tracer had to overcome a broken hand sustained toward the end of football season. His goal all year was just to make it to the Mat Classic championship, despite not being able to wrestle until mid-January.
“I mean that’s who [Tracer] is,” said Grimm. “He is that leader everyone looks to.”
Grimm said Tracer and Caldwell are vastly different wrestlers. Tracer would strike with quick, flashy moves, getting fast pins. Caldwell was much more methodical, using technically sound moves to simply outpoint a lot of his opponents.
“[Caldwell] is the total opposite of Dylan. Dylan is high-flying. Kyle just doesn’t let you score,” Grimm said.
Chimacum doesn’t have its own wrestling program, so it’s a joint Port Townsend-Chimacum team with wrestlers from both schools practicing together. Tracer and Caldwell were similar weights, so they were perfect practice partners.
At practices, wrestlers are expected to go at about 75 percent. But when Tracer and Caldwell went up against each other, that 75 percent would quickly escalate to 80 percent, then 90, then 100.
“They 100 percent tried to beat each other up,” Grimm said. “They didn’t know the meaning of drilling softly. We were lucky we didn’t get many injuries.”
But it was just their competitive spirit, nothing personal.
“They really feed off of each other,” Grimm said. “At the Mat Classic, they would say to each other, ‘I’m going to meet you in the finals.’ ”
Caldwell said those rough practices definitely made him better.
“It helped me and him both. That’s why we got there [to the finals],” Caldwell said.
“That guy is a brick of muscle, that’s for sure,” Tracer said of Caldwell.
One of the biggest obstacles Tracer had to overcome is that because it was a hand injury, he couldn’t lift weights. So he had to go up against wrestlers who had been lifting all season. Grimm said this affected him — and the fact that some of his favorite moves took two strong hands.
“I worked as hard as I ever have. [But] I couldn’t upper body lift,” Tracer said.
“He had this signature double leg takedown. He’d still go for it, but he’d have to reshoot and attack with one hand,” Grimm said. “It took away the confidence in his best move.”
Tracer’s hard work led to a regional championship and a trip to the Mat Classic at the Tacoma Dome.
“I was just so happy to be there,” he said.
He cruised to the state semifinals, where he had his most memorable match.
Grimm said that Tracer’s opponent, Jesus Ramos of Connell, had his legs wrapped up and had Tracer nearly pinned.
“Oh no, he’s not getting out of that,” was the thought that went through Grimm’s mind.
“It wasn’t supposed to end this way,” Grimm said. “And then [Tracer] just reared up. You could see him thinking, ‘this is not the way it’s supposed to go’.”
Tracer fought out of Ramos’ hold and then dominated the rest of the match, winning with a pin.
“Even though I lost in the finals, my goal was to make it to the championship. [The semifinals] was the most emotional match I’ve ever had,” Tracer said. “I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.”
In the finals, Tracer was outpointed by Sammy DesRoches of Riverside 6-3. That match was 4-3 late for DesRoches. Grimm said Tracer took multiple shots at his legs late trying to get points or a late pin, but it DesRoches was able to avoid his moves.
Caldwell made to the championship bout without Chimacum officially even having a wrestling team.
“It was scary [being in the Mat Classic], but I was confident,” he said.
Caldwell had the highest-ever finish for Chimacum wrestling with his second-place medal. A few years ago, Chimacum’s Cody McLain finished third for the Cowboys.
Tracer had the highest finish in many years for the Redhawks, nearly grabbing Port Townsend’s first wrestling championship in decades. Next year, if Caldwell can win the state title, it will be the first-ever for Chimacum in its entire history.
That is something that motivates Caldwell.
“That’s my goal,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell has an important decision to make. Grimm said that fortunately, he has a lot of time to think about it.
Chimacum is dropping down to 2B next season, while Port Townsend is remaining at 1A. Caldwell can choose to wrestle in the 2B postseason or the 1A postseason.
On the one hand, 2B competition might be easier (or it might not, regional wrestling powerhouse Forks is dropping down to 2B). But on the other hand, if Caldwell goes to 2B, he will have to compete away from his Port Townsend teammates as 2B and 1A postseason tournaments are held in different towns.
Right now, Caldwell is leaning toward staying in 1A because he wants to remain with his Port Townsend teammates.
“Probably 1A, it has better competition … but we’ll see,” he said.
The 2020 All-Peninsula Wrestling team, as selected by the Peninsula Daily News
• Co-MVPs — Dylan Tracer, Port Townsend; Kyle Caldwell, Chimacum.
• Hayden Baker, Forks, 170 pounds, third at state 1A.
• Jake Weakley, Forks, 132 pounds, fourth at state 1A.
• Adam Borde, Port Angeles, 132 pounds, fifth at state 2A.
• Ariel Morales, Forks, 132 pounds, fifth at state 1A.
• Colton Duncan, Forks, 138 pounds, fifth at state 1A.
• Karen Ensastegui, Forks, 100 pounds, first at 1A girls regionals.
• Jason Kibe, Port Angeles, 182 pounts, second at 2A regionals.
• Logan Massie, Port Townsend, 145 pounds, second at 1A regionals.
Sports editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected].