Left, Lincoln Woods and Gordon Gibson; right, Christopher Neal. Courtesy photos

Left, Lincoln Woods and Gordon Gibson; right, Christopher Neal. Courtesy photos

Islanders snag success at state wrestling championships

A trio of Mercer Island grapplers recently displayed their talent on the state level.

Lincoln Woods, Gordon Gibson and Christopher Neal grabbed a host of top awards at the Washington State Wrestling Association Freestyle/Greco State Championships on May 1-2 at the Angel of the Wind Arena in Everett.

Woods (14U/114 pounds) placed first in Greco and second in Freestyle.

Gibson (16U/100 pounds) placed second in both Greco and Freestyle.

Neal (Juniors/152 pounds) placed third in Freestyle and fourth in Greco.

Neal and Gibson qualified for the 2021 USA Wrestling Junior & 16U Nationals, which will be held July 16-23 in Fargo, North Dakota. After shining at state, Woods has been invited to compete on the Washington National Schoolboy Team (14U).

The Reporter asked the wrestlers a series of questions about their state experience:

* What were your keys to success at the state tournament?

Woods: Lots of training, many hours in the gym doing the moves over and over, and good training partners.

Gibson: The biggest key to success at the state tournament was continuing to wrestle and train even though there may not be a tournament this year. I feel lucky that Mr. Woods, Mr. Neal, and my dad were to dedicate their time to take us to camps, practices, and tournaments. Not everyone has that. My coaches and training partners made sure I was ready by putting in the “mat time.” Leading up to this year, our IMS wrestling team had a lot of success. I am thankful for Coach Ryan showing us how much fun wrestling is.

Neal: At this tournament, the top three wrestlers in each high school bracket qualify to represent Washington State at Fargo Nationals as part of Team Washington. My goal as a 10th-grader was to qualify for Team Washington’s Junior team (11th- and 12th-graders). This was a stretch goal because this year’s Junior 152 bracket had five returning Team Washington members, all bunched together and fighting for the three spots. I spent the last year focusing on making Fargo again by working with tough partners and traveling across the US, competing against the best wrestlers I could find. It was hard and I lost a lot of matches, but I got better because of it. When it came time to compete at this tournament, I didn’t focus on the outcome of the match. I just focused on wrestling as hard as I could for the next six minutes.

* What’s the best part about squaring off against an opponent in a match?

Woods: Just feeling the adrenaline.

Gibson: Squaring off against an opponent is the moment before I am about to test if I trained hard and smart enough to solve this problem. The best part of it is when my nerves calm down and get to see if the move I’ve been working on for weeks or months is going to work.”

Neal: The best part of this tournament was reaching my goal of qualifying for Team Washington’s Junior team, but the best part of each match was getting my hand raised, especially against the wrestlers I hadn’t beat before.

* What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned during your wrestling career?

Woods: Every match has something to take away from it. You learn something new from every match that you wrestle. Especially if you lose, there are a lot of takeaways.

Gibson: The biggest lesson in my wrestling career so far is to persevere when things get tough. I’ve had matches not go my way, but I used it as motivation to get better. With that in mind, I’m looking forward to being a part of the MIHS wrestling team next season and representing Washington State this summer in Fargo with Chris.

Neal: Wrestling has taught me that I am in control of how well I do on the mat, nobody else. It wasn’t because someone else didn’t do their job or blow an assignment. At the end of the match it is just me standing there with my hand raised or not. Excuses don’t matter … only hard work pays off. You also learn that winning every match isn’t important. Yeah, winning is more fun, but frankly, you learn more from losses, so you should never get discouraged when you lose … besides, it’s not really a loss if you learned something.

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