SPORTS: Mat Classic beckons Peninsula wrestlers

TACOMA — John Camp of Port Angeles is four wins away from closing out his prep wrestling career with a perfect senior season.

Meanwhile, several other North Olympic Peninsula wrestlers will be seeking state titles and trophies at Mat Classic XXI, set for today and Saturday at Tacoma Dome.

Mat Classic is the state championships for all classifications, 4A through 2B, and the Peninsula could have one of its best showings ever with two area wrestlers favored to win it all and several others with legitimate shots at trophies and state titles.

“The top four in every weight classification can certainly win this tournament,” Port Townsend coach Joey Johnson said.

Camp is 36-0 with 36 pins and is a strong favorite in the 3A heavyweight division.

But he’s not the only area wrestler who has the talent to make major waves at state.

Luke Dixon of Forks has one loss and is top-ranked at 1A 215 pounds while junior Brett Johnson of Port Townsend, Joey’s son, also has one loss and is ranked No. 3 at 1A 152 pounds.

At state all the wrestlers have the physical ability to place, but it’s the mental ability that separates the ones who place and the ones who don’t, Joey Johnson said.

“The focused are the ones who do the best,” he said.

Port Angeles coach Erik Gonzalez agrees about the mental sharpness of the winners.

“The bottom line is it’s a battle of wills,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been a long grind to get to this point. Everybody is tired, sore, injured.

“The bottom line is those who are able to block out the pains and tiredness are the ones who will prevail. And those who rise above the nerves that are part of state competition will come out on top.”

Camp is in that category despite being a little snake-bitten from last year. He went to state in 2008 with a 33-1 record and 32 pins but ended up going 1-2 in state with no place.

“Camp is focused right now and he is on a mission,” Gonzalez said.

“He has proven all year that he is focused. I do believe nothing can stop him.

“Anything can happen at state, but I do believe he will do well.”

Team-wise, the Riders’ goal is to finish in the top 10.

They have a school-record seven wrestlers at state, and Gonzalez would love to see at least three of four of them to place.

“If we do what we think we can do, we can place in the top five,” he said.

A few Riders have killer draws in the first and second rounds, with two set to face No. 1 seeds right off the bat, and one scheduled to battle a No. 3 seed. Another has a No. 1 seed lurking in the quarterfinals.

“We are all confident,” Gonzalez said. “I tell my kids that rankings, seedings and what happened last year have no bearing on this year.

“Our kids have as much right as anybody at state. We are down to the last 16 in each weight class. Everybody is good. Every one is legitimate and can win.”

Others to watch for Port Angeles are Tyler Slater and Nathan Cristion at 215, Dalton Williamson at 189, Jordan Johnson (22-4 record) and Sam Olsen (21-6) at 145 and Adam Raemer (31-5) at 140.

Forks senior Dixon is the other No. 1 seed from the Peninsula. Dixon, third at state last year, has the highest placing from any Peninsula grappler returning to state.

He is 26-1 this year but is in a tough bracket. Dixon goes against the third seed at 215 pounds in the first round (Sean Gervais of Chelan). Gervais was eighth a year ago.

Port Townsend’s Brett Johnson will be looking to improve on his 2A eighth-place finish last year as a sophomore. He is seeded third at 1A 152 with a 29-1 record.

Johnson could face the fourth seed (Zeke Lomer of Castle Rock, sixth last year) in the quarterfinals, the No. 2 seed (Andrew Miller of Omak, fifth last year) in the semifinals and the defending state champion and first seed Chris Castillo of Zillah in the final match.

All state wrestlers have tough brackets, Joey Johnson said.

“We’re in a good situation because the rest of the state doesn’t know us,” he said.

The coach believes he has four wrestlers with a good chance to place. Besides his son, he has a good feeling about Josh Holbrook and the Hanna brothers, Gatlin and Richard.

“All four have been wrestling really well right now,” Joey Johnson said. “Josh Holbrook has been at the top of his game and Gatlin and Richard Hanna both are wrestling well.

“We’ll see what happens.”

Richard Hanna took second at regionals last week despite being ill, but he is healthy for this weekend, Johnson said.

Others going to state for 1A Port Townsend are Justin Boland at 285 and Chris Kimball at 215 (he could face Dixon in the quarterfinals).

Forks also will have in 1A competition Brien Jaksha (29-8) at 171, Cristion Molina at 119, and Cutter Grahn and Tyler Cortani, both at 103.

Sequim, meanwhile, also is sending seven to state. Returning state placers are Ethan Hinton (32-2) at 189 and Joe Hutchison (25-4) at 135.

Hinton, eighth a year ago, is seeded sixth while Hutchison, sixth last year, is seeded third.

Hutchison could face the defending state champion (Daniel McElhaney of Washougal) in the semifinals Saturday morning.

The Wolves will compete in the 2A division.

Others going to state for Sequim are heavyweight Thomas Gallagher, Alex O’Donnell at 152, Anthony Drabek at 140, Nick Grinnell at 130 and Taylor Gowdy (28-4) at 125.

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