Mountain Lions repeat with panache as 1B/2B state wrestling champions
By Mike Maltais
The Liberty Bell High School varsity wrestling team won the 1B/2B state wrestling championship for the second consecutive year at Mat Classic XXVI in the Tacoma Dome last Friday and Saturday (Feb. 21-22), and in the process entered the Mountain Lions’ record book as the first team in LBHS history to successfully defend a state title.
And they made it look easy.
The seven-man team of senior Milo Holston, juniors Emmett Fink, Trent Skelton, and Danny Humiston, and sophomores Meritt Fink, Jacob McMillan and Ivan Johnson captured four first-place medals and one third-place finish to put 35 points between their 103-point final score and nearest rival Kittitas with 68.
Sophomore Danny Rodriguez and freshman Kaleb Marten were team alternates.
Holston, 160 pounds, Emmett Fink, 152 pounds, Skelton, 120 pounds and Meritt Fink, 138 pounds, won individual championships, and McMillan placed third at 145 pounds.
With the exception of Johnson, six of the seven LBHS state qualifiers were veterans of at least one previous state championship tournament.
“It’s the first time in the history of our program where we have had four state champions,” said coach Paul Schmekel.
“If you add up the total points scored against those four I think you’ll find that there were less than 10 points scored against them,” Schmekel said.
The coach is right. The four LBHS state titlists gave up only 8 points to their rivals.
Three-time veteran Skelton, the only returning state champion, won the 106-pound title last year, one of nine Mountain Lions on the team that captured Liberty Bell’s first-ever state wrestling crown. In his first appearance at state as a freshman, Skelton placed second at 106 pounds.
Holston, a two-time state veteran, placed second at 145 pounds last year. Emmett Fink, a team alternate in his freshman season, won second at 138 pounds last year. Meritt Fink was a fifth-place finisher at 132 pounds last year. McMillan made it all the way to the 132-pound finals last year and placed second. Humiston competed at 113 pounds last year and was eliminated after two losses.
Another fast start
The Liberty Bell grapplers, following on the heels of last year’s dominating state champs, had some big shoes to fill when they entered the preliminary rounds Friday morning. But, the majority of the shoes being their own, by tournament’s end Saturday evening they had more than filled them, and with two points to spare.
By way of comparison, last year’s Mountain Lions threw down such a commanding lead — 49.5 points — by the end of the first day of competition that they had the state title wrapped up before the final rounds even commenced. With six wrestlers advancing to championship matches, the 2012-13 Liberty Bell team ended up winning the championship by 33 points over second-place Lake Roosevelt.
This year’s team finished the first day of matches with a 32.5-point margin over second-place Kittitas. While that padding fell short of last year’s first day tally it was still enough to virtually call the championship for Liberty Bell.
The Mountain Lions’ margin of victory was double that of any other championship team in the Mat Classic’s six team divisions. The Warden girls and 4A Lake Stevens won by margins of 16 points, 3A North Central of Spokane was an 8.5-point winner, 2A Deer Park won by 5 points and 1A Blaine squeaked a 1.5-point team title.
Demonstrating the value of quality over quantity, a comparatively small group of Mountain Lions had to make every weight division count since Liberty Bell did not have wrestlers competing in eight of the available 14 weight classes.
With as few as two matches standing between a wrestler and the championship finals, it didn’t take long for the Mountain Lions to make their presence felt.
Skelton dispatched familiar rival Logan Weber of Kittitas by a pin in 3 minutes, 1 second to advance against Wilber-Creston’s Joe Peterson. It took Skelton 15 seconds longer than his first match to pin Peterson, but the results were the same.
Skelton’s opponent in the final round, James Monaghan of Lake Roosevelt, had lost to Skelton by an 11-5 decision two weeks earlier at districts. It didn’t get any better for Monaghan at state as Skelton out-pointed the Raider, 7-3, for the 120-pound title.
Meritt Fink shut out Republic’s Walker Baumbach, 12-0, and pinned Reardan’s Ruger Lillengreen in 5:31 to face an unfamiliar rival in the finals, Alex Johnson of Wahkiakum. Fink beat the junior Mule, 4-2, for the 138-pound medal.
Emmett Fink defeated Wahkiakum’s Kody Vik by a 1:48 fall and pinned teammate Ivan Johnson in 1:33 to enter the championship round against Kevin Knauff of Garfield-Palouse. To reach the finals, Knauff had beaten Northwest Christian’s Ben Alford, who handed Fink his only loss at the regional competition a week earlier. It turned out to be the right match-up for Fink, who held Knauff scoreless en route to a 9-0 decision and the championship at 152 pounds.
Johnson defeated Kyle Nushart of Concrete, 12-2, before he met Fink in the semifinals. Johnson’s loss dropped him into the consolation round and a chance for third place, but Nick Forbes of Kittitas eliminated Johnson with a 1:54 pin.
After watching Justin McMillan claim the 126-pound state championship last year, teammate Holston set a goal: “I want to dominate my weight class the way Justin did.”
Holston did just that this season. He pinned Wyatt Hyer of Pomeroy in just over a minute and handed Darrington’s Garrett Green an 8-6 loss to advance to the 160-pound finals against Brian Hart of Ocosta.
Nursing a cut sustained above his right eye the previous day, Holston needed about three-and-a-half minutes to pin Hart for the title.
McMillan was the only Mountain Lion to meet the same opponent, Ben Harper of La Conner, twice at state. In the first round McMillan defeated Harper by a pin at 3:30. Next came a loss to Lake Roosevelt’s Kodie Horn, who had gotten the best of McMillan at regionals the previous week. McMillan came back in consolation to outlast Luiz Gutierrez of Pateros, 2-0, and dispatched Harper a second time, 6-2, for third place.
Humiston turned out to be battling two obstacles at state: his mat rivals and the flu. Humiston lost his first match by a fall to eventual third-place winner Jose Kike Marin of Kittitas. In the consolation round, a weakened Humiston was eliminated from the tournament by South Bend’s Matthew Lewis by a fall late in the final period.
Besides the state finalists and alternates, other LBHS varsity wrestlers included seniors Jake Pennock and Colt Jack, junior Stoney Hulon, and sophomore Tyson Coleman. Jack was lost to the team by an early season knee injury and Coleman dislocated a shoulder at districts.
The Liberty Bell wrestling squad will lose three seniors, Holston, Jack and Pennock, to graduation this year.
When the Mountain Lions return to Tacoma to defend their state title next season they will face four additional schools — Warden, Tonasket, Okanogan and Brewster — that will drop into the B league. Always-powerful Warden will pose a formidable threat, as the Cougars, with 92 points, finished third among the 51 1A teams at state. Tonasket came in at No. 17, Okanogan was 32nd and Brewster 40th.