Even as parts of the island experienced power outages, there was no shortage of electricity in the air at the 32nd Island Invitational wrestling tournament in the Bainbridge High gymnasium Saturday, Jan. 11.
The BHS varsity wrestling team hosted 10 visiting schools for a day of gripping competition in a variety of weight classes and experience levels, and placed sixth overall with a team score of 115.
The top three teams of the day were North Mason High (175 points), Klahowya High (166) and Mountlake Terrace (156).
Though scheduled to participate, the Bishop Blanchet and Clover Park teams did not attend.
Far from feeling any extra pressure being the host school for such a large event, Spartan Head Coach Dan Pippinger said that he and his team were excited to bring the action up close and personal for the home crowd.
“I think it’s more fun,” Pippinger said. “I think we just enjoy wrestling at home. The pressure doesn’t really come into it.”
The element of random opponent assignment that comes with tournament-style competition means that some of the newer wrestlers may be given the chance to take on the more experienced athletes in their weight class, a beneficial learning experience that could come in handy later in the season as regular matches give way to more tournament action.
“We practice for this and we practice hard,” said BHS junior Liam Topham (152-pound class). “Dan’s a great coach.”
Topham gave a memorable first-match performance, bringing home an 11-2 decision victory over Shelton’s Gable Lacy.
“After I took him down I felt good and had a bit of confidence,” Topham explained. “Eighty percent of the time if you get the first takedown, you’ll win.”
Pippinger agreed and often stresses the importance of early domination to his team.
“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “You score that first takedown, you start to get in his [the opponent’s] head a little bit.”
Spartan grappler Jack Miller won four matches at the tournament to become the champion of the 138-pound weight class.
After a bye in the first round, Miller would go on to defeat opponents from North Mason, Franklin Pierce and Mountlake Terrace.
“We wrestled really hard,” Miller said of his second match in particular, against Max-Henry Nelson of Franklin Pierce.
“The first round was pretty even,” he said. “But in the third round I knew I had it.”
Miller went on to describe his personal strengths on the mat as varied, and his style as actually less aggressive than it may appear.
“I’m really good with defense,” Miller said. “I’m really good on my feet, I think.”
Miller was not the only Spartan to place well in his weight class.
Gregg Williams ultimately took fifth place in the 120-pound weight class.
Jonathan Gallivan took second place in the 126-pound weight class.
Chaney Weaver was named sixth in the 132-pound weight class.
Bainbridge dominated the competition in the 152-pound weight bracket with Dylan Read being named class champion and Aaron Jumpa taking eighth place.
Joaquin Gurza finished the tournament in second place overall in the 160-pound weight class, as did Mike Grant in the 182-pound bracket.
Grant, the Spartan heavyweight wrestler, beat opponents from Kingston and North Mason after advancing through two byes early in the tournament before being defeated by North Mason’s Victor McIntosh, who would be named the class champion.
As one of the more experienced wrestlers on the Bainbridge team, and the largest, Grant said that he considers it part of his responsibility to set the tone for the junior athletes.
“If I wrestle well, I know that the younger wrestlers will want to wrestle well,” Grant said. “I practice like I want to wrestle.”
Despite his size, Grant said that he focuses much more on the technical side of the sport than on physical conditioning alone.
“I try to focus on technique,” he said. “Because it will beat strength.”
With the wrestling season more than half complete, the coaches and athletes have begun to more seriously eye the upcoming Metro and state meets, which are also tournament bracket-style competitions.