SPORTS: Preview of wrestling teams on the North Olympic Peninsula

Last year’s high school wrestling season was magical on the North Olympic Peninsula.

There probably has never been a season like that in the area and there probably never will be another one.

There were two state champions and seven other state placers from all four schools with wrestling programs on the Peninsula.

But that doesn’t mean wrestling coaches aren’t optimistic about the upcoming year.

Sure, two state champions, one with a rare perfect season, are gone. However, there still is plenty of top talent around, including state top-two ranked Thomas Gallagher of Sequim and Brett Johnson of Port Townsend.

But last year was really something.

John Camp, a Port Angeles heavyweight, helped make the 2008-09 season special.

After a junior year where Camp went 34-3 with 32 pins, he improved to 40-0 with 40 pins and a Class 3A state championship his senior season.

It doesn’t get any better than that in high school wrestling.

Port Angeles coach Erik Gonzalez said he has never seen anything like that. But he’s not selling this season short, either.

“We’re where we were last year at this time,” Gonzalez said. “Last year we had lost a good senior class, and I never expected going into the season what was going to happen.

“We have lost another good senior class. I feel like I did last year at this time. We have a lot of potential. The young kids just need to step up.

“And we feel we have kids who are ready to step up.”

Forks lost the other state champion to graduation, Luke Dixon.

Following are previews of the four area wrestling teams.

Port Angeles Roughriders

Gonzalez is starting his eighth year as the Riders’ head coach. The program has been growing every year.

There are 46 athletes out for the team, about the same amount as last year, including two with state experience.

“We have a nice mix of experience and youth,” Gonzalez said. “They are all pushing each other, challenging each other.”

Senior Adam Raemer captured fourth place at 3A state at 140 pounds, and junior Nathan Cristion competed at state at 215. Both were first at the prestigious Forks tournament last weekend.

Raemer, 34-7 last year, is ranked fourth in state at 145 and No. 2 in the Olympic League this season in a very tough weight. Cristion is ranked fifth at 215.

“We’re excited about those two guys,” Gonzalez said. “So far they haven’t disappointed.”

Just below those two is senior Brandon Vaught at 171 pounds, who lost in the regionals to the eventual state champion last year.

“I think he should place at state,” Gonzalez predicted.

Another senior the coach is counting on is Montana Collins, who competed behind Raemer at 145 and made regionals. Collins has moved up to 152.

Others making up the strong senior class are Cameron Moon at 160, and heavyweights Stuart DesRoschers and Daniel Jenkins.

The junior class includes regional veterans Andrew Symonds at 135, and Jacob Dostie at 189, both knocking on state’s door.

Gonzalez expects both of them to place at state this year.

Dostie’s only loss at regionals last year was to teammate Cristion.

Junior Trevor Lee is ready to make some noise at 152.

“He’s a kid I expect to step up this year,” Gonzalez said.

Of the underclassmen, Gonzalez is especially happy with freshmen Josh Basden and Malachi Mulhair, both competing at 103 pounds.

In his eight years at the helm, Gonzalez has never had a wrestler finish the year at the lowest weight, 103.

“It’s rare to have a kid at that weight, and this year we have two,” Gonzalez said.

Sequim Wolves

The 2A Wolves are starting out slow because of a long football season and a lot of inexperience on the team.

But big things are expected of senior heavyweight Thomas Gallagher, who worked out with Camp last season and ended up claiming sixth place at state.

Gallagher currently is ranked No. 2 in state but hasn’t stepped on the mat yet. One of the top linemen in the state, Gallagher is expected to receive a college football scholarship and missed last weekend’s competition because he was on a recruiting trip.

He also is working on losing some of his lineman weight for the wrestling season.

“He is working out with us and working on his weight,” Sequim third-year coach Len Borchers said. “When he makes weight, I think he will step right in.”

Other than that, there’s not a lot of varsity experience on the team of 41 wrestlers currently on the roster.

“We are very, very young,” Borchers said.

The coach feels good about the participation numbers, though.

“We barely touched 30 last year,” he said.

Of those 30, Ethan Hinton and Joe Hutchison both captured seventh place at state. They have moved on but Borchers is waiting to see who will step into the void.

Some of the seniors Borchers is counting on are Zach Sisco at 130, Joe Pizzuto at 171, Mike Bereiter at 160 and first-year wrestler Tommy Sund at 189.

Pizzuto comes to Sequim from Port Angeles.

One of the top juniors is Kawika Yasumura, who took second at Forks last weekend.

“Kawika has been working real hard,” Borchers said.

Gallagher, Sisco, Yasumura and 152-pound sophomore Dakota Hinton all were elected co-captains by their peers.

Dakota, the younger brother of 189-pounder Ethan, is tall and lean, Borchers said.

The coach predicts that Dakota will out-grow his older brother before he graduates.

“The other kids respect Dakota,” Borchers said. “He has a good work ethic and he sets a good example.”

Borchers is working with a large sophomore class. Besides Dakota Hinton, he is expecting good things from Clay Charlie at 215, Kenny Henning and Austin Middleton at 145, Mustang Riggins at 140 and Cody Field at 135.

Two freshmen who bear watching are Kenny Griffith at 112 and Derek Fruin at 119.

“The freshmen show promise,” Borchers said.

Overall, the coach likes this group of athletes.

“We have kids with some spunk,” Borchers said. “We will win some dual meets but this is a year for most of the kids to gain experience.”

Port Townsend Redskins

The 1A Redskins are playing the youth card like the other North Olympic Peninsula teams.

Port Townsend graduated 12 seniors last year, including Gatlin Hanna, who took eighth at state.

“We’re young,” Port Townsend coach Joey Johnson, who is starting his 30th year as wrestling coach, said.

Three with state experience lead this relatively small group of 34 wrestlers.

The top prospect is the coach’s son, Brett Johnson, who claimed third place at state at 152 pounds last year but probably will step up to 160 this season.

Brett Johnson received a preseason ranking of second in state at 152. The two-time state placer was eighth in 2008 as a sophomore.

The senior has been battling injury issues from football the past week but is expected to start wrestling soon.

The other top seniors are Ryan Unbedacht, a two-time state wrestler looking to place for the first time at 130 or 135, and Mitchell Harper, a state alternate last year.

Joey Johnson said all three seniors have the potential to place at 1A state.

Justin Boland, a 215-pound junior, also went to state last year and is expected to make another run to state when he rejoins the team later.

Other juniors with varsity experience include Kris Windle, twins Nick and Jake Saul, Mark Herr and Zac Olsen.

“If our juniors step up, we should have a good year,” the coach said.

Olsen is nursing a football injury and is not expected until the end of the year.

Overall, the Redskins have some quality athletes, Joey Johnson said.

“We have a real good core,” he said. “They work hard. Most of them just don’t know the sport yet. It will be interesting to see where they end up.”

The Redskins are hosting their own four-team tournament Saturday, including Vashon Island, South Whidbey and Tenino.

Forks Spartans

The 1A Spartans lost super-athlete Dixon and also Brien Jaksha, who earned fourth place at state at 171.

They do have one state placer returning in junior Tyler Cortani, who captured eighth place at 112 last year. Cortani also took second at the Forks tournament last Saturday.

Sophomore Cutter Grahn also has state experience but he was at the same weight a year ago. Ironically, Grahn took first at regionals and Cortani was third but Cortani was the one who placed at state.

Otherwise, Forks coach Bob Wheeler, the Peninsula’s senior head coach starting his 31st season, has little experience with only 24 athletes out.

Two others to watch this year are brothers Tanner and Dayne House. Both won individual championships at the Forks tourney last week and both currently are undefeated.

Tanner, a senior, wrestles at 285 while his younger brother, a sophomore, competes at 125.

Tanner was ranked in state a year ago but didn’t make the big tournament because he broke his wrist in practice while wrestling Dixon.

Travis Petrovich, a senior, is coming back from knee surgery. He placed second in the Forks tourney, losing in the title match to a state placer.

Senior heavyweight Joey Salazar went to state once and was a state alternate last year.

“Right now Joey is behind Tanner, but hopefully he will make it down to 215, which would help us a lot,” Wheeler said.

Like the other Peninsula teams, Forks is young and inexperienced.

“I was pleasantly surprised when we won one of two dual meets we had on Wednesday night,” Wheeler said.

The longtime coach is hoping to have a few more nice surprises before the season ends.

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