By Mike Maltais
The Liberty Bell High School wrestling team went in two directions Saturday, as part of the crew attended the Okanogan Tournament and another contingent the prestigious Tri-State Tournament at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene.
Milo Holston, Meritt and Emmett Fink, Jacob McMillan and Trent Skelton accepted an invitation to attend the Tri-State in the company of coach Paul Schmekel, and there competed against 60 teams from schools in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
At the same time new assistant coach Gunnar Doggett, a former Liberty Bell state-wrestling champion, took the six remaining members of the team to the Okanogan Tournament for matches against Brewster, Pateros, Ephrata, Tonasket, Oroville, Republic, Almira-Coulee-Hartline, Wilber-Creston and host Okanogan.
The 35th annual Tri-State is the longest continually running invitational in the Northwest and as such draws the top tier wrestlers from a four-state area.
“We were the only B school there,” said Schmekel. “The other teams were mostly in the 4A and 5A categories.”
Schmekel said many of the wrestlers who advanced to the second day’s finals at the Tri-State are or will be state champions in their weight classes.
McMillan lost his first match at 138 pounds by a fall to Bryan Wais of Hermiston, Ore., that state’s 5A champion last year.
“Even though Jacob lost his first round he came back strong to beat his next three opponents,” Schmekel said.
One of those was another Hermiston wrestler, AJ Garcia, who lost to McMillan by a 7-0 decision.
Following a first-round bye, 145-pound sophomore Meritt Fink defeated Josh Richmond of St. Maries, Idaho, by a 10-7 decision. Fink then lost to Cody Lemons of Frenchtown, Mont., in a first-period fall.
Junior Emmett Fink, 152 pounds, also advanced in a first round bye to defeat Kellogg’s Anthony Noto by a fall in 1 minute, 29 seconds of the first period. Fink then met his weight division’s No. 1 seed, Joe Grable, from Deer Park and lost by a fall in 3:26.
A first-round bye at 160 pounds put senior Milo Holston up against Lewiston’s Jared Walker, who fell to the Mountain Lion by a 4-1 decision. Holston then lost a 10-4 decision to University’s John Fairbanks, who went on to place fifth in the finals.
Skelton did not compete while he recovers from a knee injury, but did place fifth last year at 106 pounds to tie LBHS alum Maverick Port for the best finish of any Mountain Lion at the Tri-State.
McMillan and Holston advanced to the following day of competition where both lost in close matches.
“The guys all wrestled great,” concluded Schmekel.
Closer to home at Okanogan, Danny Humiston faced three Bulldog opponents in his 126-pound weight class. Humiston defeated Myron Super by a pin in the second round to advance against Jesus Menchaca, who fell to a 4-2 decision. Humiston was leading Okanogan’s Tony Klepec, 2-1, when the Bulldog pinned him in the third round to give the Mountain Lion second place.
Ivan Johnson, 152 pounds, lost to Oscar Roa of Brewster by a pin in his first match but came back to defeat Kurtis Klingenberg of ACH, Ephrata’s Cole Spencer, and Caleb Lofthus of Tonasket to win third place.
Danny Rodriguez at 113 pounds and Jacob Whitney, 182 pounds both earned fourth place honors.
Jake Pennock, 145 pounds, and Tyson Coleman, 170 pounds, were both two-and-out for the tournament.
The Mountain Lions have some tough opponents just ahead. The team will travel to the Royal Rumble in Royal City Saturday (Dec. 28). Warden will be waiting the following Saturday, Jan. 4, and then it’s on to the Gut Creek Challenge in Olympia Saturday, Jan. 11.