POULSBO – Despite having two of its top wrestlers on the bench with injuries, the North Kitsap Vikings wrestling team squeaked out a 40-33 victory Tuesday versus Olympic, winning the meet in a dramatic and high-spirited contest between the squads’ 130 pounders.
The finale pitted NK’s Johnny Helsing against Oly’s Orlando Vera with the Vikings maintaining only a three-point advantage. Though North had led by as many as 18 points in the meet, the Trojans stormed back behind the pins of heavyweights AJ Webber and Paul Kogut and lightweight Andrew Brown.
It was not a position that either Helsing or Vera was accustomed to, each having been predominantly back ups or even junior varsity wrestlers for most of the season. But that’s wrestling, said Oly coach Rick Griffith.
“We knew it was going to come down to the little things,â€ Griffith said. “That it was going to be a barnburner.â€
The Trojans’ Vera began the match with a 5-0 lead, getting a near-fall and a take-down to put North’s Helsing on the defensive.
However, the Viking battled his way back to close the points’ gap in the second. The two wrestlers took turns on top, each looking to have an edge. But in the end — and despite being down three points — Helsing pulled out the pin to seal North Kitsap’s narrow victory.
“Johnny stepped in there when we needed him,â€ said Vikings’ coach Jon Cooke.
Even in the loss, Griffith was proud of the way his not so usual 130 pounder – Vera typically wrestles at 119 – had grappled.
“The kid wrestled with so much heart,â€ Griffith said of Vera. “It was a great match.â€
Going into the match, North Kitsap looked to have an advantage in experience, with much of the Viking squad having either one or two years’ varsity experience. Oly, on the other hand, is a squad of predominantly sophomores, Griffith commented.
“We have expectations of these kids,â€ he said, “but we’re very young still.â€
Without NK veterans Matt Grimes and Jerrell Smith, who are out with injuries, the Trojans chances had improved.
But North won three of the first four bouts, two coming in the form of six-point pins from Danny Harris and Miles Pendergraft and one by way of major decision for the Vikings’ Cory Bast. Cooke was quick to credit his most experienced grapplers with getting the points necessary early on to help seal the match.
“We had some great efforts by seniors to get wins when we needed pins,â€ he said.
But after Olympic’s heavyweights took pins, the lighter wrestlers — Brown, Mick Pollillo and Joe Flores — put the Trojans within striking distance of an upset.
Helsing, however, shattered hopes of that.
Olympic drops to 1-3 in league while North improves to 4-0 on the season.
“We’re right in the running for the (Bridge) championship,â€ Cooke said. “The (team’s) skills are fine but they still have to get their skills up to get up the hill towards districts and state.â€
Oly will be at the Klahowya tournament today and North will travel to South Kitsap for the Wolves’ annual invitational today as well. NK will face its toughest challenge thus far in the season when perennial powerhouse SK comes to town next Tuesday.