Before Chris Pothoven could venture far in his progression to an eighth place finish at Mat Classic XX — this year’s version of the Washington State Wrestling Tournament — he needed to take care of some business a little closer to home. His first-round opponent in the 215-pound weight class was Mercer Island neighbor and former Islander Middle School teammate J.P. Bruckner, who attends and wrestles for O’Dea High School.
“[Bruckner] lives five minutes away from me and I have to drive down to Tacoma to wrestle him,” said Pothoven before the match.
The battle for neighborhood bragging rights raged through all three periods of the match before the senior, Pothoven, walked off the mat with a 10-7 win over the junior, Bruckner. The first takedown of the match gave Pothoven a two-point lead, but Bruckner’s escape to start the third period put him in a position to tie the match with a takedown. Instead, Pothoven took down Bruckner for a third time to take control of the match. The ability of Pothoven to use double-leg takedowns against the muscular Bruckner proved decisive.
“He wanted to wrestle up top with the upper body and try to get inside me, and I wanted to keep him away,” said Pothoven. “When he tried to reach up for me, his legs were exposed.”
Bruckner’s approach to the match might have been different if he had spent more time over the season wrestling in the 215-pound weight class. He wrestled all but one regular-season match in the 285-pound class where opponents are much less willing to try double-leg takedowns. While Bruckner believed he became a better wrestler when going against opponents who outweighed him all season, it was a trade off.
“I definitely think wrestling [all season] at 215 would have helped because I wasn’t as used to it,” said Bruckner.
Bruckner lost his second match and was eliminated from the tournament.
“I was mad,” said Bruckner about his early exit. “But then I was just thinking that I have another year to do it.”
Pothoven only had this year to do it, and placing at state was one of his goals for the season. He ensured himself an eighth-place finish with a decisive win over Quanah Briggs of Union High School, leading 14-2 when the match was ended by injury default in the final seconds.
Pothoven’s elation at placing in the tournament was tempered by the fact that his wrestling career had ended.
“It has been a good run,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to it.”
Nonetheless, Pothoven is well aware of the lessons that he has learned from wrestling that will help carry him through his future undertakings.
“I can’t count ’em,” he said, “but most of all discipline. You just have to go out hard. What you do at first will affect how you finish.”
If the tournament ended on a high note for Pothoven, for senior teammate Alex Faith it ended in a blur. After losing his first match and being bumped to the consolation bracket, Faith was seemingly in control of his next match when he was reversed and pinned with less than seven seconds left in the second period. Faith’s ability to prevent the pin was compromised when he was choked into submission.
“He put me on my back. It was tight, and then I woke up,” said Faith.
Disoriented, Faith lay on his back until reached by medical personnel and coaches. Several minutes later, he made his way to the training room. Sitting on a training table with emotions running through him, the highlights of his four years wrestling at Mercer Island — approximately 90 wins — were hard to relish.
“I was just thinking about everything, the whole season and my whole career,” said Faith. “Just that it was done.”
Islander coach Creighton Laughary had argued with the official that action should have been stopped when Faith was being choked, regardless of the intent of the other wrestler. The official refused to change his call and later attempts by Laughary to challenge the ruling with WIAA representatives were unsuccessful.
Laughary said the rules provide that any hold putting pressure on the throat or carotid artery is illegal. There were plenty of witnesses to the fact that the hold caused Faith to pass out, seemingly proving that the hold put pressure on Faith’s throat.
“It’s about safety,” said Laughary.
Laughary plans to raise the issue further with Washington wrestling officials and the WIAA in upcoming weeks to hopefully ensure that other wrestlers do not suffer similarly in the future.
“That’s just a terrible way for a really good wrestler, a senior, to end his career,” said Laughary.
But just as his parents and coaches expected, Faith bounced back quickly from his disappointment. Before wrestling continued on the second day of the tournament, Faith was out on the floor with his teammates, accepting the award as state 3A winners in the WIAA Scholastic Awards Program. The Islanders won the award with a combined grade point average of 3.528 among 16 wrestlers. Faith, who will be attending the University of Washington next fall, is but one member of an all-college-bound senior wrestling class, according to Laughary.