It was a history-making event for Liberty Bell High School at the 2022 Mat Classic in Tacoma last weekend.
Senior Noah Holston swept through the 1B/2B 195-pound weight class to the top of the podium, joining his two older brothers, Milo (2014) and Finlay (2018), as state wrestling champions.
Classmate Cody White also had an outstanding meet, wrestling his way to a third-place finish in the 145-pound class.
And Cassidy Jones-Mowen became the first ever female Mountain Lion wrestler to hit the mats in the Tacoma Dome.
“Noah has been driven all season,” noted Mountain Lion head coach Joe Downing of his senior grappler. “He wrestled with his brothers, practiced long and worked hard all year.”
Indeed, Holston had said in an interview during pre-season workouts that his goal was not just to get to state, but to win the championship. “When it was his time,” continued Downing, “he asked his teammates if they were ready to watch him go to work.”
Go to work is exactly what he did. Holston rolled through the three-match bracket without giving up a single point. He opened with a major decision technical fall, 15-0, over Brock Gustaveson of Davenport, pinned Darrington’s Landen Brown 1:07 into the match, and scored another major 15-0 decision and technical fall in the title match against Weston Fruh of North Beach.
Holston outpointed his three opponents by a score of 32-0 and he was so efficient that his matches took only 9:58 of the possible 18 minutes. He closed out his season with a 28-1 record, that one loss being a strategic forfeit at the District 6 meet two weeks ago.
White started out fast by pinning his first-round opponent, Kolby Mozingo of Onalaska, at 1:40 into the second period. The Mountain Lion was then faced with a rematch from regionals against Lionel Castro of Grandview in the semi-final, with Castro pinning White at 39 seconds into the second period.
White moved into the consolation bracket, defeating another familiar face, Christian Carson of Lake Roosevelt, at 1:52 into the first period, setting him up to take on Josiah Skindzier of Kittitas for the third-place trophy.
White opened the match with a takedown for 2 points just 15 seconds into the bout for third place, deferring the up-down choice at the start of the second period. Skindzier chose the down position, but was not able to earn the reversal or escape points. White scored a 3-point near fall and a 2-point reversal early in the final frame, winning by fall to end the match.
“He was tough as nails,” said Downing of White. “He had a tough match against the [eventual] champion, Lionel Castro.”
Long day on the mats
Jones-Mowen, a freshman, wrestled three matches at state on Friday, losing her first-round match in heartbreaker fashion. Wrestling Monroe Bearcat senior Sophia Breaker, Jones-Mowen broke out to an early 3-0 lead, scoring a first-period takedown and a second-round escape.
Starting the third period from the neutral position, Breaker scored a takedown to close the match to a 3-2 score. Jones-Mowen responded with an escape for 1 point with 43 seconds left to go. Up 4-2, and things looked good for the first-year wrestler.
But, as Yogi Berra famously warned the sports world 70-some years ago, it really ain’t over until it’s over. Breaker scored a 2-point takedown and 2 more on the near fall, coming back for the 6-4 win and sending Jones-Mowen into the consolation bracket.
From there, Jones-Mowen took on junior Elizabeth Walton of Silas High School (Tacoma). Walton sported a 21-9 season record at the 4A school, but Jones-Mowen was up to the task, jumping out to a 3-0 lead before scoring the win by fall in the second period.
Elizabeth Messman of Vancouver’s Mountain View ended Jones-Mowen’s tournament and third match on day one, by fall after taking the early 4-0 lead on a takedown and near fall.
Reached for comment, one of Liberty Bell’s early female wrestling pioneers, Jessie Yockey, expressed her pride in Jones-Mowen’s accomplishments this year. Yockey, along with Andrea Love, are, as far as anyone knows, the first female wrestlers in the program, members of the team from 2000 through 2002.
“We had to wrestle with the boys. I qualified as an alternate, but never got to wrestle at state,” said Yockey. “That girl” she said, referring to Jones-Mowen, “worked her butt off to get to where she is today. She has earned the title of the first [Mountain Lion] girl to wrestle at state, and she did great.”
Yockey’s son, Damien Spears, is a freshman who suffered a season-ending knee injury that took him out of the District 6 and regional qualifying meets.
Only once before in Liberty Bell history have three male competitors from the same family earned the top honor in the annual tournament. From 1997 through the 2001 tournament, the Tuller family (Matt, Andrew and Courtney) totaled five titles among them.
Meritt and Emmett Fink each won a pair of championships in 2014-16.
The history of the tournament is highlighted with other Mountain Lion champions and high podium placers, most notable of which would probably be Trent Skelton’s run of a second-place finish as a 106-pound competitor in 2012, then a string of three straight titles from 2013-15 at 106 and 120 pounds.
Downing and assistant Kyle Erickson, are hoping to build on this year’s success as they head into the off-season.
White and Holston will be gone to graduation, but Jones-Mowen looks to return for her sophomore season, and there is some promise at the junior high level of stronger numbers soon.
Downing is also heading up a junior wrestling program that is just now gathering steam for a March full of practices and meets around the area.
“We have a meet scheduled for March 26 at Liberty Bell,” said Downing. “We expect teams from Oroville, Pateros/Brewster, Chelan/Manson and even Cashmere. It’ll be pretty big.”
“Kyle and I aren’t going anywhere,” he said of himself and Erickson. “We have plans to show kids that this is a growing program,” hoping that in those numbers the Mountain Lion program can develop and return to its tradition of state champions, both individual and team.