Only a handful of girls have wrestled for Columbia High in the 13-year history of its wrestling program.
Melanie Salisbury in 1998-99, the first season of CHS wrestling, was the groundbreaker. Then there was Kayla Crank in 2004-05 becoming the first CHS girl to wrestle in a WIAA-sponsored all-classes invitational. (Girls wrestling in Washington was an exhibition sport until 2006-07. That winter the WIAA held its first girls state championships.)
The last three years, Columbia High junior Sarah Gibson has been a lone girl on the CHS wrestling team—training with her male teammates, then competing individually in girls tournaments.
With each passing season Gibson has gotten better. In 2010, she placed fifth at the regional meet at 140 pounds and missed out on qualifying for the Mat Classic in Tacoma by one spot. Her consolation prize was becoming the first CHS girl to win a regional match.
This season Gibson won a district title, then finished second at the regional meet to secure her—and the CHS girls wrestling program’s—first Mat Classic berth. She concluded her historic campaign last weekend with an eighth-place finish in the 140-pound weight bracket during the all-classifications girls state championships in the Tacoma Dome Arena.
“My first state tournament was more than I had hoped it would be. It was lots of fun,” Gibson said, “and a huge honor to represent Columbia High School.”
Gibson’s tournament began late last Friday morning with a 10-8 loss to Sunnyside sophomore Abigail Elizondo—though the CHS junior came on at the end after trailing 8-4 with 59 seconds remaining.
Gibson said her opening match against Elizondo was her most difficult. “I was really nervous and didn’t do my best,” she noted. “It was really hard losing my first match of the tournament.”
Five-and-a-half hours after that first-round match, a rested Gibson rebounded and pinned freshman Lacy Cannon of Mt. Baker 48 seconds into their loser-out match—another win for the CHS record book.
Gibson carried the momentum forward to her 7:30 p.m. loser-out match against senior Anna Stauffer of Skyview (Vancouver), the 2010 state runner-up at 135 pounds. The opponents had become more than acquaintances during the 2011 post-season.
Gibson won her Southwest District title when Stauffer forfeited the final after two periods because of an injury. A week later Stauffer defeated Gibson by fall in the first period of their regional championship bout.
Last Friday Gibson prevailed in the rubber match. After a scoreless first period, Gibson earned a 2-point takedown in the second and would only build on that lead.
Stauffer, for her part, was not 100 percent; the referee stopped action twice for injury timeouts.
In the final issue, though, Gibson’s 8-2 victory had more to do with her being on top of her game than with her opponent’s injury. Gibson established control after the first-period stalemate with a series of moves that left Stauffer trailing and having to counterattack aggressively.
Gibson parried and took advantage of missteps to mount a commanding advantage. (During the regular season, Stauffer had been ranked No. 1 among 140-pound girls; Gibson was rated No. 10.)
“From watching videos, I learned that she likes to shoot for the lower right leg right off the whistle,” Gibson said. “So my strategy was to defend my leg by baiting her shot and hopefully getting her into a head and arm lock and sprawling hard.”
Afterward, Gibson reached out to Stauffer, and the two embraced—one crying in the knowledge that her prep career was over, the other enjoying the moment of her own getting started.
“At state it was great to go three rounds without her injury defaulting,” Gibson said of her match with Stauffer. “She was a true competitor. Winning that match was the highlight of my season.”
The victory extended Gibson’s tournament to the second day and guaranteed she would take home a medal for her efforts.
On Saturday, Gibson wrestled two matches and lost both by narrow decisions: 10-6 to Kiona-Benton senior Amy Campbell, then 5-3 to sophomore Charlene Carrell of Elma in the match for seventh place.
Gibson and Carrell had faced each other twice during the season. “I wrestled Carrell my first match of the season. It was a tough match with not much action, but I won 3-2,” Gibson noted.
The defeat by Campbell denied Gibson a shot at third place, but Gibson wasn’t disappointed with her final spot on the podium.
“It was an honor to make it into the medal round on the second day, because I eliminated Stauffer in my last match on Friday. It was either her or me moving onto the next day,” Gibson said.
All in all, it was a good season, and a good first state tournament experience, for the third-year CHS wrestler.
“The time I will remember most about this season was coming back at the end of the season and beating wrestlers I’d lost to earlier in the season, which shows how much I improved throughout the season,” Gibson said. “I will also remember all the good matches, along with some of the mistakes I made in some big matches, which will help for next year.”