Seahawks, Tides looking to put positive spin on challenging wrestling season
This high school wrestling season is better than the last, though that’s not saying much.
This year, Gig Harbor and Peninsula competed against teams from their own league (South Sound Conference) at their own classification (3A). Last year they went up against 4A South Puget Sound League squads. This year they wrestled a normal winter schedule after being shortened to five weeks at the end of the last school year. And this year they’ll — hopefully — get to advance to postseason tournaments that weren’t contested last year.
That’s not to say it’s been easy.
The Tides and Seahawks spent the season trying to avoid COVID, and scrambling to make up matches when they or their foes couldn’t. Look at Peninsula’s schedule. Red lines strike out the first five contests, and five of the first six, followed by “Event Postponed” or “Event Canceled.” Only by comparison did Gig Harbor emerge relatively unscathed with two lost dates. Somehow, both teams salvaged all seven of their league duals, culminating with their makeup rivalry match Friday at 3 p.m. at Gig Harbor.
The match zipped along with only pins and forfeits, and finished in a 42-42 tie. Peninsula took home the trophy as determined by the sixth tie-breaker, fewest number of forfeits.
COVID obliterated schedules despite expansive efforts to prevent it. Wrestlers and other high-contact athletes were tested twice a week, which bumped to three times at midseason. Unlike last year, they weren’t required to wear masks while actively wrestling in practices and matches, but at all other times. They were split into pods of only a couple kids who could practice together, and kept apart from others. They were separated on bus rides.
“If a whole team is doing drills together in close contact, you can lose your team on quarantine for one kid,” Gig Harbor Athletic Director Bob Werner said. “If you pair kids up of similar weights in pods and keep them 6 feet apart, you’re going to lose that kid and their partner. The same thing on the bus. They spread out. If we need to order extra buses, we do. It’s easy to lose half the team on one bus ride from one kid.”
Werner hadn’t heard of a single kid who quit because of the protocols.
“The other part is they’re dying for something organized to do,” he said. “What else are they going to do than play the sport they love?”
Two tournaments in which Peninsula was scheduled to compete were canceled after host teams broke out with COVID, another when the host Seahawks couldn’t field enough wrestlers because of the virus, and a fourth because snow and landslides blocked teams from reaching Hoquiam, 11th-year coach Gary Griffin said.
“As a whole, I’m happy that we’re still wrestling, that we can still do it,” Griffin said. “There were a lot of different protocols and hurdles and precautions we encountered this year that we never had to worry about. It used to be skin diseases. Now it’s testing positive, whether or not you’re having a cough.
“It’s been challenging. We’ve had to do a lot of things differently. It tested our creativity to keep kids motivated. It doesn’t look like a regular wrestling season yet. Some of the younger guys don’t know what that looks like. There’s no reason to be depressed about it. I love wrestling. I’m just excited to get a chance to do it.”
A little luck and dogged efforts by coaches, parents, administrators and students kept Gig Harbor’s season fairly on track, said first-year coach Blake Moser.
“It’s been a challenge navigating that stuff,” he said. “It’s just something we’ve got to get through. I’m just grateful that we’re even having sports this year, which has been a blessing, and I think a lot of parents are really stoked that we have sports back this year in a somewhat normal capacity.”
Despite the COVID breakouts at December tournaments, the subregional, regional and state tournaments at this point will continue as planned. Here’s a look at some of the local wrestlers who could advance deep into postseason.
The Seahawks are a young squad numbering in the low 20s but filling out 13 of the 14 weight classes. They’re led by seniors Kylan Sommen at 220 pounds and Emmett Casey at 160.
“Those guys have embraced leadership roles for us,” Griffin said. “We have a lot of new faces this year. Their leadership and experience is really valuable this year.”
Sommen reached the finals in his last three tournaments and “is just on the cusp of winning something big,” Griffin said. “He’s leading the charge heading into postseason.”
Juniors Aidan Eversull (126) and Aiden Thomsen (195) “are poised to really make a run and set themselves up as juniors,” Griffin said.
Sophomore Justin Phipps (106) has placed in every tournament he’s participated in, and classmates Cameron Miller (138) and Ben Thomas (113) and freshman Xavier Clark (113) are rising standouts. Thomas, however, broke his forearm Thursday.
“I think these young guys are building on our future,” Griffin said. “They should be around for a few years and really make a statement.”
The Tides’ numbers have eroded to the high teens, but the team generally fills all but the heaviest weights. They’re led by senior twins Abe Odiorne (182) and Charlie Odiorne (160), who are in their fourth year in the program. Abe has been beset with injuries that his brother has avoided. Both are “very tested” and “leaders in the room.”
“Abe has just been awesome, he’s just been a stud, especially last year,” Moser said. “He won a bunch of matches for us when we really needed him to.”
Jacob Kraus (152) and Alex Fernandez is another senior who has been with the Tides for four years and is an example of transforming from awkward freshman to solid seniors through hard work and sticking with the program.
“He’s really improved a ton, really stepped up for us this year especially,” Moser said. “He’s been one my go-to guys in the mat room, keeping everyone in check and leading the team. He’s got a good, solid skill set and works his tail off. He’s had his bumps in the road, but when it comes time for him to perform, he locks it in and is on top of everything.”
Jacob Wilsie (138) is among only a few juniors and has performed well since dropping down to his proper weight class. William McDermott (126) stands out among the many freshmen.
“He had some amazing comeback wins that surprised me and the rest of the coaches,” Moser said. “It’s been a joy working with him.”
Moser is looking for those top five to make deep postseason runs with the potential to reach and possibly place at Mat Classic XXXIII Feb. 18-19 at the Tacoma Dome.