Columbia High’s boys wrestling program posted its best state tournament performance since 2009, scoring two medals and a top-25 finish in the team standings.
Senior Fletcher Andrews capped a four-year varsity career at CHS by taking fifth place at 138 pounds in the 1A boys tournament, while junior Alex Medina wrestled his way to sixth place in the 220-pound weight bracket last weekend at the Tacoma Dome.
Junior James Bell, CHS’s entry at 145 pounds, won his first bout but lost the next two during Friday’s double-elimination format.
As a team, Columbia tied Jenkins, of Chewelah, for 21st place, with 26 points. They matched CHS’s finish and point total from 2009.
Due to their high regional finishes, all three Bruins wrestlers got seeded into what were open brackets, meaning the 138, 145, and 220 classes did not have def-ending champions.
That said, Andrews and Bell ended up in four-stacks in their 16-man brackets that featured wrestlers who won championships at different weights in 2016. Their quarterfinal matches were their most difficult of the tournament.
Medina, for his part, be-came CHS’s first state semifinalist since Kevin Kreps in 2009. (Kreps placed fourth at 145 pounds that year, and Seth Bell finished fifth at 189).
Bruins Coach Stoner Bell felt good after the CHS trio won their opening bouts on Friday, but he knew his wrestlers’ work had just begun if they wanted to get to Saturday’s medal rounds.
“Every match at state is tough, and they only get tougher as you move up through your bracket,” Bell said shortly after Medina pinned his opening-round opponent in the first period
Medina assured himself of a medal when he won his quarterfinal match by major decision Friday afternoon.
Andrews and Bell lost their quarterfinal bouts and would have to win elimination matches later in the day to advance to Saturday’s medal competitions.
Andrews clinched a spot in Saturday’s medal rounds by scoring a minor decision, while Bell lost a minor decision to a Castle Rock wrestler he had defeated three times this season, most recently in the 145 final at the regional tournament in Royal City on Feb. 11.
“We got three high-quality wrestlers to the Mat Classic: two first-place regional finishers and one second placer,” Bell said. “We came back from state with a fifth-place medal at 138, arguably one of the toughest weight classes, in general, in wrestling, and a sixth at 220.”
Also notable, he said, is the fact the Bruins, for the first time in boys program history, will have a returning state placer, Medina, in their fold.
Medina’s second Mat Classic did not end as well as it started, though.
“I think Alex wrestled very well for his first two matches on Friday. I even think he wrestled his semifinal match on Saturday very well, even though he lost to a very good wrestler,” Bell said. “However, on Saturday, I think ‘nerves’ got to him, because I really think he could have won his last two matches.”
Cases of the nerves aren’t uncommon among athletes competing at such a high level, according to Bell.
“This happens a lot, and I’m going to have to get better at preparing our kids mentally for the state tournament,” he said.
Columbia’s coach attributed James Bell’s exit on Friday, in part, to nervousness.
“James is a very good wrestler but on Friday he just did not look like the James that has been wrestling for us all season,” Bell said.
Andrews maintained his composure and a cool demeanor throughout his six-match run at state. In victory or defeat, his demeanor never changed, his determination never wavered.
“Fletcher went against wrestlers who were clearly stronger and more skilled than him. I was proud of him after every match,” Bell said.
In his match for fifth place, Andrews stayed aggressive against an Elma wrestler with a definite strength ad-vantage.
“Fletcher never shut down or quit moving during the ebbs and flows of the match, and there were several, and he wrestled under control, making very few, if any, mistakes,” Bell recalled. “In the end, the kid from Elma wasn’t patient and took some higher risk moves on which Fletcher was able to capitalize and win the match.”
Andrews’ result in his second state tournament, Bell said, “really testifies to what an individual can do if they have a goal, believe in themselves, and put the extra effort into pursuing those goals.”
Andrews, he continued, availed himself of opportunities outside wrestling season to work on his technique and mental makeup, in preparation for the rigors of the high school competition.
“Fletcher found every opportunity to wrestler that he could because he knew it would make him better,” Bell noted. “He took ownership of his success in wrestling.”
Taking advantage of such off-season opportunities be-comes more important in light of the cancellation-ravaged season CHS just completed.
“Over half of our wrestlers finished the season with less than 20 matches, and many had less than 15,” Bell said. “Our normal goal is to have everyone wrestle at least 30 matches prior to post-season.”
To CHS’s returning and prospective wrestlers who want to be successful in their sport, Bell has a simple message.
“Those who want to be successful will need to find opportunities to wrestle outside the regular season,” he said, then added, “If they set a goal and work hard for it, they can all be champions.”