Wrestlers have solid hold on the year

Count wrestling coach Steve Hohl among the fans of the Spartans’ shift to the Metro League this year.

“We should do very well this year,” he said. “Even in our bad years we beat Nathan Hale, and even with three starters missing we beat O’Dea last year.”

Those two schools plus Ballard and Blanchet are the traditional Metro powers.

The O’Dea win was somewhat dramatic. Assistant coach Britton Johnson zoomed back from a junior varsity meet with three wrestlers who dashed into the gym just in time to wrestle and save Bainbridge from three forfeits against the Irish, who went on to win the Metro title.

The switch to Metro is just one of several changes that Spartan wrestling fans will notice this year.

One is that meets will begin with a randomly drawn weight class, rather than the traditional method of starting with the lowest weight and proceeding upward in sequence to the concluding heavyweights. If, for example, a given match opens with the 145-pound class, the match would proceed upward to heavyweight, then go “around the corner” to continue at 103. The final match, therefore, would be 140.

Under the new system, the pressure of deciding the outcome of closely contested dual meets won’t always fall on the two or three highest weights.

Another change will slightly alter the method of resolving ties in individual matches at the end of regulation time. Starting from a neutral position, the two contestants will wrestle for 30 seconds. If one scores a takedown within that time, the match will end.

If not, one wrestler will take the “up,” or advantage position. If he rides his opponent for 30 seconds or flips him over, he wins. If the “down” wrestler escapes or reverses, he wins.

The choice regarding up or down will be given to the wrestler who scores first during regulation time.

Still another change involves next January’s 19th annual Island Invitational. Normally an eight-team tournament, it will expand to 12 teams.

Hohl, in his 21st year at the helm of the Spartan program, has plenty of help. Longtime assistant Johnson returns for his 10th year, while Danny Pippinger will lend his skills for the third time. Scott Drucker, who competed at state twice before graduation in 1986, will join last year’s graduates Mike Roe – sixth at state last year – and Pat Taylor.

Three other Spartans also graduated: state competitor Brandon Nall, Joey Mankes and Travis Dever. The upshot is that the team’s strength last year – the middle weights between 135 and 145 – will largely be filled by inexperienced wrestlers.

But Hohl is optimistic about this year’s team, as he hopes to be at least two deep in all weight classes. He welcomes back 13 letter winners and had added a large freshman class.

In addition, eight team members completed the noted J. Robinson intensive camp, which has proven to be a steppingstone to state competition for several Spartans in the past.

Half of them are in the four lowest weight classes. Junior letter winners Steve Devine and Alonzo Valenzuela are at 103 and 112, respectively. Sophomore John-Michel King and freshman Zach Smith will interchange at 119 and 125.

Four wrestlers are at 130: senior tri-captain Derek Jones, sophomore Garrett Roe and freshmen Cory Guy and Curtis Nelson. At least one member of that group is likely to go up or down a weight.

Freshmen Joel Messett, Angelo Ritualo, James Tjemsland and Billy Thomas join junior Nick Sturza, returning after a year’s absence from the sport, in competition at 135, 140 and 145. Tjemsland is a veteran of the J. Robinson camp.

At 152, Hohl has experienced junior Chris McKay, backed up by sophomores Justin Thorpe and Chris Lyons.

With senior tri-captain Jacob Hayashi – probably the team’s best wrestler – and junior letter winner Dan Bachen in support, 160 is perhaps the team’s strongest weight. Junior Mitt Cadden, wrestling for the first time, adds even more depth.

Senior tri-captain Brian Cook, who improved a great deal last year and attended the J. Robinson camp, is at 171.

At 189 and 215, Hohl can choose among sophomore Carl Webster, juniors Peter Mandell and Nick McCallum, both of whom attended the J. Robinson camp, and senior Seth Paradox.

One or two of that group may also get some experience in the heavyweight category. Hohl’s efforts to enlist a genuine heavyweight from the football team have thus far proved fruitless, despite his constant repetition of the “Ben Mahdavi” mantra. Mahdavi, a former walk-on in the University of Washington football program who has emerged as one of its leaders, handed former Spartan wrestler Chris Shipp his only defeat in the state finals several years ago.

Hohl is convinced that wrestling played a vital role in Mahdavi’s eventual success as a Husky linebacker, which included stuffing Cougar running back Dave Minnich on a crucial fourth-and-inches situation in last Saturday’s Apple Cup.

Bainbridge opens the season on Nov. 30 at North Mason, as the Bulldogs also host Steilacoom and Cedarcrest and the Spartans. The first home match is on Dec. 12 against Rainier Beach.

With the relative dropoff in quality of opposition – the now-defunct Olympic League had several top programs – Hohl has outlined an extensive schedule for his team.

“I made sure that we had some challenging non-league matches,” he said.

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