Wrestlers take down Skyline

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Sam Bliss stuggles to get free from his Skyline opponent’s grasp during a critical match Thursday at Mercer Island High School. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Islander Sam Bliss stuggles to get free from his Skyline opponent’s grasp during a critical match Thursday at Mercer Island High School.
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In a close, regular-season wrestling meet, the slightest mistake, movement of an arm or lifting of the head too high can mean the loss of a match, the meet or even a shot at the league championship. The Islanders capitalized on Skyline’s mistakes during two dramatic match victories Thursday to win their regular season opener in an upset 42-36.

“I hope that we are a surprise team and we can continue to surprise the league,” said Mercer Island head coach Creighton Laughary.

The biggest surprises of the night came during the 171- and 189-pound matches.

Islander sophomore Sam Bliss took to the mat at 171 and found himself down 7-0 at the start of the third and final period.

“I kind of got an advantage during the third and I just started putting points on the board,” said Bliss. “I didn’t even know what the score was until after the match.”

Bliss’ focus on his opponent and conditioning came through as he battled back to within 8-5. Bliss earned a crucial reversal with 20 seconds left, and forced his opponent to stare at the lights. Forcing all of his weight into his opponent’s chest, Bliss picked off point after point in a near fall situation. When the referee blew his whistle, Bliss had accumulated enough points to win the match 9-8. Bliss credited his win to his conditioning.

“We can’t control speed or agility, but we can control conditioning and that is what we do at practice,” said Laughary. “He and (Islander sophomore Graham) Horgdal wrestle against each other at practice. They really push each other.”

The two seemed to be competing during the meet to see who could have the most dramatic match.

Horgdal, at 189, also found himself in a deep 8-2 hole during the second period. But he caught his opponent in a mistake during a takedown attempt and put him into a head lock. The move resulted in five points and a major momentum shift.

He continued to drive his body into his opponent’s chest during the third to wear him out. Horgdal used the strategy to pick up a 15-11 victory.

Mercer Island tallied 30 of its points via pin fall, thanks to Islanders Alex Faith (119 pounds, 0:31), Davin Kunovsky (135 pounds, 1:30), Austin Frazier (145 pounds, 2:39), Tanner Linton (275 pounds, 2:58) and Chris Pothoven (215 pounds, 1:07).

Pothoven’s victory was a shocking match. The 2006 3A state wrestler came out with fire, violently trying to snap his opponent’s head downward. The Island junior succeeded but was promptly turned to his back in an instant.

“I didn’t even have time to worry about the pin,” said Pothoven. “I just knew I had to keep fighting.”

His Skyline opponent nearly got the fall before Pothoven escaped, regained control of the Spartan’s head and drove his shoulders into the mat for the win.

“He took it to him and we love that,” said Laughary. “But it made my heart race.”

The Spartans came into the meet as an enigma, competing at the 4A level during the past two seasons, but holding a 28-21 roster advantage. That fact left Mercer Island down 12-6 before the meet even began, due to a forfeit at 103 pounds and a double forfeit at 112 pounds.

“We did not know what to expect with Skyline,” said Laughary. “But we will take the win.”

Mercer Island’s next match will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Interlake High School. The Islanders will have a tough schedule following the three-week winter break. Meets against Mount Si and Sammamish will be squeezed into the second half of the season because of cancellations earlier this season due to snow.

“We just have to focus on the people in the room during practices,” said Bliss. “We have to be ready.”

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