After a few years of better-than-average turnouts, Columbia High’s wrestling program took a hit in the numbers for the 2013-14 season.
Bruins Coach Stoner Bell welcomed 16 wrestlers on the first day of practice but has since seen the roster settle in at the 10 to 11 range: not enough to compete realistically for team titles but more than enough to shake up post-season brackets. Those wrestlers, Bell noted, represent a mix of old and new and will comprise the core of the team going forward into January and February.
Columbia’s most experienced returning wrestlers are senior and three-year letter-winner Nathan Bell, who wrestles at 160 pounds, and junior Regina Bell, a third-year wrestler who competes in boys meets at 126 and girls competitions at 125. Nathan Bell made it to state as a sophomore (joining older brothers Seth and Joshua as state qualifiers for CHS), but was unable to wrestle at last year’s regional meet in Castle Rock due to illness. Regina Bell, Nathan’s cousin, had a shot at her first state berth last year but was disqualified from wrestling at the regional meet in Battle Ground by a skin irritation.
Coach Bell has high hopes for both returning wrestlers but also understands nothing is guaranteed in the slippery slope world of high school wrestling. One wrong move and a season’s worth of sweat and toil could be all for naught in mere seconds. The effects are heightened the farther up the ladder a wrestler moves in competition, which only gets stronger at every stop.
To get themselves ready for the rigors of post-season wrestling, Bruins wrestlers have competed in a number of regular-season tournaments to date. From the season-opening Bruin Interstate Invita-tional on Dec. 14 to the Wahkiakum Down River Challenge on Dec. 21, to the Free Berry Invitational in Pendleton, Ore., on Dec. 28, to the Washougal River Rumble on Jan. 4. The aim, Bell noted, is to get each wrestler as many matches as allowed by WIAA regulation before the post-season begins in early February with the Trico League championships.
Already benefiting from the experiences is senior Austin Walker, a first-year wrestler who has shown great promise against the competition he’s seen in the 182-pound weight class. To date, Walker has placed in every tournament he’s been to. Walker won at home, placed second at Pendleton, and finished third at Wahkiakum. The fact that Walker is un-seedable in tournaments (be-cause he did not wrestle last season) gives him a bit of an advantage in that he is an unknown quantity.
Walker’s greatest asset, according to his coach, is his explosiveness, which has helped him compile a 13-3 record with a bunch of pins. Most of those pins, Bell noted, have come in the first 2 minutes of action.
“While this is his first year of wrestling, he has extensive wrestling experience,” Walker’s coach said. “He is naturally athletic and strong. If we can develop some additional technique and patience in him, he has a good chance of placing at state.”
Nathan Bell, who missed the Bruin Interstate meet due to an academic-related commitment, has also been strong out of the gate. He earned his first high school tournament victory with a 4-0 run at Wahkiakum. A week later he won the consolation bout at 160 pounds in Pendleton to finish with a 3-1 record. He is 9-1 overall after winning his weight class at Washougal. The key to his success so far, according to his coach, has been his consistency in close matches against strong opponents.
“Nathan is wrestling very well this season,” Bell noted. “He has won a couple of tournaments this year and is getting good matches. I expect him to do very well in league this year and I think he should make it to state and place.”
Regina Bell, one of three girls to turn out for wrest-ling this winter, scored her first tournament win of the season with a 2-0 mark at Wahkiakum. Bell is 6-4 overall this season.
“Regina is a competitive wrestler and is hindered somewhat by a lack of female competition,” her coach said. “Since we do not technically have a girls team, and therefore lack some of the resources necessary to find her good competition, she has to take advantage of all opportunities available to her, which can be difficult.”
Sophomores Austin Morris, CHS’s entry at 138 pounds, and Miguel Lem-mon, who competes at 132, also are working to beef up their resumes, with eyes cast toward favorable post-season tournament seeds. Morris (6-5 W-L) scored a season-best third-place finish at Wahkiakum, and Lemmon (4-5 W-L) placed eighth in his bracket.
“Austin was out most of last season due to health issues. This year he is wrestling a lot tougher,” Bell said. “He needs to continue to improve his technique, but he fights very hard out on the mat and I expect him to get to regionals this year.”
Lemmon, according to his coach, “is a hard-working, intelligent wrestler who has developed a lot through the last year and a half.”
Senior Matt Bergstrom (5-5 W-L), another first-year wrestler, has experi-
enced the growing pains that come with learning a new sport, but is starting to find his feet on the mat. His second-place showing at Wahkiakum was a turning point for the CHS heavyweight, according to Coach Bell, who said the 220-pounder’s high placement, regardless of the forum, was impressive and significant to his development as a high school wrestler. “I wish we had had him for the first three years of high school,” Bell noted. “He has a lot of natural ability, with a good sense of balance. He has developed very quickly as a competitive wrestler.”
Bell also has been pleased with the development of the team’s lone freshman, Fletcher Andrews (10-7 W-L). The 113-pounder was one of three Bruins to attend the three-state event in Pendleton and came away with seventh place. He finished in style by pinning his final opponent in the first period. The week before Andrews went 3-1 and placed second at the Down River Challenge. To date, he too has placed in every tournament he’s entered. “Fletcher is a solid wrestler with a lot of heart,” his coach remarked. “He works hard and is very coachable. He should continue to have a winning season and be competitive in both dual meets and in tournaments.”
Sophomore Michael Waldron (0-4 W-L) is another young wrestler trying to put last year’s health issues behind him. “With persistence, he will improve throughout the season,” Bell predicted.
Returning wrestlers Luis Pascual (junior, 152) and Catalina Suarez (junior, 145, and a regional qualifier in 2013) have been unable to wrestle so far. Bell hopes to get Pascual back in January. First-year Madison Roeder, a junior, also is awaiting her first action.
All told, the CHS wrestling program is enjoying a fine, all-around season, despite the unusually low turnout. Wrestlers who made the commitment are developing on or ahead of schedule. Some of them have taken on top-notch competition from other parts of the Northwest to measure how far along they are in terms of personal development. Now, they all know, is the time to lock in and build on those gains, one grueling match at a time, in pursuit of the chance to wrestle in the spectacle that is the WIAA Mat Classic in the Tacoma Dome.