Everything goes right for wrestling

Mercer Island team is one win from third 3A KingCo title in five years

  • Monday, November 24, 2008 8:11pm
  • Sports

Mercer Island team is one win from third 3A KingCo title in five years

By Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter

Islander wrestlers knew they would have to work extremely hard to recover from one of the biggest upsets this season when they lost to Interlake just before the winter break. They knew that, from then on, everything would have to go right.

Everything went right on Thursday night in the Mercer Island High School gymnasium — literally and figuratively — as Mercer Island beat perennial 3A KingCo power Mount Si 52-24.

“It was just where our strength hit theirs’, and we came out on top,” said Mercer Island head coach Creighton Laughary. “Any one of our kids can make their own momentum.”

The team’s momentum became a big factor as the Islanders dominated the upper-middle weight classes for five consecutive pins, all of which came by forcing Wildcat right shoulders to the mat.

“This is the biggest match of the season,” said Islander Austin Frazier. “Now we just have to beat Newport to get the KingCo title.”

Mercer Island got a pin during the first match of the night from Jackson Fischer, but then found itself down 12-6 after two consecutive losses. A major decision by David Bowman, 14-4 at 145, pounds, brought the Islanders back within two points. But it would be Frazier’s victory at 152 pounds that would set the tone for the rest of the night.

A reversal late during the first round gave Frazier a 3-2 lead in what seemed to be a back-and-forth match. But with the clock moving toward zero late in the second period, Frazier caught his opponent with his left shoulder on the mat and his legs straight up in the air. With the weight of the Wildcat’s body and leverage from his own back, Frazier forced the right shoulder down, earning the pin fall with just seven seconds remaining.

“As soon as I turned and he was on his back, I knew I had a chance, but I had no idea how much time was left,” said Frazier.

Freshman starter Colton Knebel continues to give the Islanders youthful aggression at 160 pounds. Clinging to his opponent’s left arm and holding a 7-0 lead during the second round, Knebel used that aggression and mat awareness. The Wildcat tried to run out from under the hold for an escape. With his feet carrying his legs in one direction and his chest pointing at the ceiling, the Wildcat left his right arm within the grasp of Knebel. Grabbing that freed right arm, the freshman jerked his opponent in the opposite direction of where his feet were carrying him. With a “smack,” the Wildcat hit the mat. Knebel applied all of his body weight to the right shoulder for the eventual pin fall.

“He is doing very well for his first year,” said Frazier. “He has been a big addition.”

Sam Bliss (171 pounds) and Graham Horgdal (189 pounds) took just 57 seconds combined during the next two matches. The quick work came via two pin falls as their right shoulders hit the mat for the slap and whistle.

Islander senior Chris Pothoven proved he is ready for the postseason as he put on a clinic at 215 pounds, leading by the score of 15-1. Pothoven’s height advantage made for a big difference in the distribution of weight between the athletes. The difference in body type would be the difference in the match. Pothoven managed to use an arm bar to force his opponent to the mat and use the thickness and girth of his opponent’s torso against him. The move worked, and the 15-1 lead turned into six points for his team as the fans in the stands erupted in jubilation.

“It was a Mercer Island variation of the arm bar,” said Pothoven. “It was nice to have this at home. I haven’t seen the stands this full in a long time.”

The Islanders got over a big mental hurdle this week as Kyle Shanafelt (103 pounds) returned to the lineup, following an injury, and Nick Radow (112 pounds) made his varsity debut. The two holes in the lineup set Mercer Island in a 12-0 hole to start most of the season. The two wrestlers combined to be a wash on the scoreboard as one earned a forfeit from Mount Si and the other was pinned. But the mental impact of a full lineup was immeasurable.

“That is huge,” said Laughary. “Both of them in practice and to have a complete lineup for the first time all season at this meet was huge.”

Fittingly, the meet came to a close with senior Alex Faith pinning his opponent during the second round. Faith, along with Pothoven, were a big part of the 2004-2005 team that last won the KingCo title.

“[After the loss to Interlake], we were mentally down and everything was going against us,” said Faith. “But it was huge for us to refocus and get into a do-or-die mentality.”

But that piece of hardware is not in the trophy case just yet. The Islanders will travel to Newport tonight for the final meet of the season. If the Islanders are successful, they will clinch the regular-season league championship for the third time in five years and the first under Laughary as head coach.

“The senior leadership on this team has been so vital,” said Laughary. “They will keep the rest of the team grounded for the meet against Newport.”


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