Columbia High is sending four wrestlers--juniors Kevin Kreps and Seth Bell, sophomore Ben Ward and freshman Connor Warner--to this weekend's Class 1A Westside Regional Tournament at Castle Rock High School.
The four from CHS earned their ways to the state qualifying meet by placing in the top four of their respective weight classes at last Saturday's SWW 1A Trico Division tournament in La Center.
Kreps finished third in the 140-pound bracket--Columbia's top finish on the day--by pinning Matt Johnson of Kalama at 2:12 of their consolation final.
"Kevin has a lot of confidence and knows how to make other guys wrestle poorly," said first-year Bruins Coach Rich Polkinghorn. "He is strong and athletic, which makes him a tough wrestler."
Bell, Ward and Warner placed fourth at 171 pounds, 189 pounds and 145 pounds respectively. Moreover, it will be Bell's second straight trip to the regional meet, which begins at 4 p.m. Friday and continues at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Columbia High's performances at the league championships pleased first-year Bruins Coach Rich Polkinghorn.
"We wrestled some of our best matches on Saturday," he noted. "Some of the guys beat guys that they'd previously lost to. Or, if they didn't beat them, they did much better than the first time they wrestled."
All told, Columbia High had 15 wrestlers in action at La Center. On the day the Bruins won 12 of 43 matches and scored 73 points, which were good for sixth place in the seven-team tournament. (Castle Rock won the team title with 403.5 points; Ilwaco was last with 66.)
Polkinghorn said CHS's team score "was not a good reflection of how we wrestled," nor did it take into account that the Bruins were missing two regulars from their lineup, juniors Jon Belvin (130) and Max Wulff (215), who "would have scored points for us."
"Max is a foreign exchange student through Rotary and was unable to attend due to a Rotary function," Polkinghorn noted, while Belvin "failed to make weight."
Added Polkinghorn: "It was a terrible way to end the season for Jon, who did such a great job all season and has made huge progress."
Progress has been something Polkinghorn has looked for from his wrestlers throughout the 2007-08 season.
"My overall impressions are that we have made tremendous growth from where we started," he said. "The overall improvement on our team has been fantastic."
Kreps is among the handful of CHS wrestlers who have prospered under the tutelage of Polkinghorn and assistant coach Stoner Bell. He posted a team-best 2-1 record at the Trico meet to earn his first regional tournament berth.
On Friday, Kreps will open against Montesano sophomore Kurt Fry. Other first-round matchups for CHS are: Warner vs. Forks senior Edgar Ayala; Bell vs. Rainier senior Sinclair Balmes; and Ward vs. Forks junior Luke Dixon.
The top-six placers in each of 14 weight classes will advance from regionals to the Feb. 15-16 state tournament in the Tacoma Dome.
Polkinghorn is especially optimistic about Kreps' chances of making it to that next level.
"Kevin has a lot of confidence and knows how to make other guys wrestle poorly," said his coach. "He is strong and athletic, which makes him a tough wrestler."
Bell, for his part, will find himself in a tough 171-pound bracket that will include the weight's No. 2 ranked wrestler, Rowdy Payne of Castle Rock.
Bell wrestled Payne for third place at the Trico meet and led early with the first takedown and controlled the match for half of its 6-minute length.
"It was a very good match, but when Seth went down, he got to his back one too many times," Polkinghorn said and added, "Seth is just a half step behind some of the best guys in the state."
Warner will have to wrestle the way he did at the league meet--taking advantage of opponents' mistakes and making them pay--to get out of regionals.
"Connor lost his match for third place because of a lack of experience. He was winning at the time he got pinned," Polkinghorn said. "But for a freshman to advance to regionals at a weight like 145 is very good. He has a bright future."
Ward, who the team initially thought was lost for the season in January with a fractured ankle (it turned out to be a sprain), showed he was more than healthy enough to nail down a spot in the regional tournament.
"Ben is another that takes advantage of opponents' mistakes," noted Polkinghorn. "He's scrappy and has a great sense of balance. Fourth place was a great accomplishment for Ben."