SPORTS: Grahn, Cristion highlight strong area group going to state wrestling this weekend

TACOMA — The last three months have all been leading up to this.

Mat Classic XXIII is not just the end of a long wrestling season, but also of a grueling three-week period at the beginning of February that whittles down each weight class to just one champion.

The North Olympic Peninsula has produced just 10 such wrestlers since 1953.

Eleven area wrestlers will try to join that exclusive group when the state championship competition begins this morning on 24 mats in the Tacoma Dome.

“To be a state champ you have to have some good skills, you have to be in great shape and you have to have decided that it was a possibility,” said Forks head coach Bob Wheeler, who has coached five state champions with the Spartans.

“Early in the season, maybe there’s a big difference in the physical ability, but by the time you get to the postseason, it’s 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical.

“They all have some good skill. They have all worked hard all season long.”

At the top of the heap for Peninsula wrestlers are Port Angeles 189-pounder Nathan Cristion and Forks 119-pounder Cutter Grahn.

Both enter the tournament fresh off regional championships.

Cristion’s was a little bittersweet, however, since it came by way of an injury default against Kingston’s Freddy Rodoff in the final.

Thus, Cristion (38-2 overall) missed out on a chance to avenge his only two losses of the season.

“Obviously, Nathan was disappointed, I was disappointed,” Port Angeles head coach Erik Gonzalez said. “It would have been good to see how far he had come [this season].”

Comeback win

Grahn (30-2), on the other hand, posted a gritty come-from-behind 7-5 victory in his own final against Castle Rock’s Marcus Deyo.

The latter boosted Grahn to No. 3 in the 119-pound Class 1A state rankings compiled by washingtonwrestlingreport.com.

“He’s right up there. He’s a smart kid,” Wheeler said. “He’s got good physical tools, but he learns what you need to do in a match, and the mental part that he has is as good as anybody, I think.

“There may be kids that have better physical ability. He’s not the quickest kid, but he’s certainly plenty strong enough and he uses his body type really well.”

Grahn is no stranger to the bright lights of the Tacoma Dome, either.

He qualified for 1A state as a freshman in 2009, then reached the 112 semifinals last year, eventually finishing sixth.

Now he leads a group of three Spartans — Tyler Cortani at 125 and Nick Atkins at 145 are the others — to Tacoma.

Grahn has a manageable bracket, with eighth-ranked Cody Harvill of Omak likely the toughest challenger between him and another semifinal trip.

After that awaits a likely matchup with No. 2 Danny Barajas of Royal.

“[Barajas]’s really quick and explosive and he knows what he’s doing,” Wheeler said. “Cutter can wear people down, though.

“He can stop some of that quickness, because he’s very good at getting kids into his type of match. It would be a really good match. If he could get by him, that could even be the best finals match [of the bracket].”

Back at state

Cristion comes into the Mat Classic with some state experience of his own.

The all-league linebacker was eighth at 189 at the 3A level last year.

Competing one classification lower this time around — Cristion is ranked fourth at 189 in 2A — he is looking to extend a streak of two straight years with a Roughrider in the state semis.

The way the bracket shakes out, it looks like that could be a distinct possibility.

Cristion’s toughest competition in the first two rounds in 10th-ranked Jacob Waller of Clarkston. Standing in the way of a finals appearance is second-ranked Joey Gomez of Othello, a state runner-up a year ago.

“We feel pretty confident,” said Gonzalez, who has coached two state champions of his own. “We feel like Nate can get [to the finals].

“He’ll have a tough match in the semis, a state runner-up who he hasn’t wrestled before, but he’s a kid we feel pretty confident against.

“Those top four kids [including Tumwater’s Easton Hargrave and Rodoff ], I think they are all pretty close, and I think all of them could win it.”

Port Angeles has two other wrestlers competing at the 2A level, with Andrew Symonds at 140 pounds and Trevor Lee at 160 pounds.

Sequim, meanwhile has the most state qualifiers on the Peninsula with five. Among the Wolves who will wrestle in 2A competition are Austin Middleton (130), Emelio Perete-Colin (215), Derek Fruin (135), Dakota Hinton (171) and Amariah Clift (171 girls).

Clift was the Wolves’ highest placer at regionals, taking second after getting pinned in the final.

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