By AARON MANAGHAN
SILVERDALE — Billy Richardson fully expects to be leading Bremerton into the Tacoma Dome for the WIAA Mat Classic state wrestling championships this February.
But for Richardson, the senior 112-pounder may have already faced his toughest competition.
Richardson was one of several Knights competing at the 31st annual Central Kitsap Matman Classic invitational tournament last Saturday. And while the Knights mustered just a 14th-place finish out of the 16 team field, scoring 40 points, Bremerton grapplers got valuable learning experiences at the tourney.
While Richardson had his sights set higher than the third-place tie he achieved, both he and coach Jeff Barton said the showing came in the toughest weight class at what many called the toughest invite tournament in the state this year.
“All the coaches agree,” Barton said. “(112) was the stacked weight class of this tourney. (112) was seeded to eight. That’s almost unheard of. It was a pretty amazing class to watch, too.”
With a field of more than 30 returning state placers, including five defending state champions, there was no lack of exciting matches on the mats.
“We knew this was gonna be a barn burner to start with,” Barton added.
At Richardson’s weight alone included last year’s 4A 103 champ, Lake Stevens’ Zach Zweifel as well as the seventh-place finisher in Davis’ (of Yakima) Courtney Nalley. Richardson himself was third in 3A at the weight.
“It was tough,” Richardson said. “I wish we could have wrestled for true medals. I wasn’t really feeling myself.”
Richardson’s day began with a bye before he topped Enumclaw’s Kyle Young 8-2 in the second round. That set up his toughest battle on the day with Graham-Kapowsin’s Efrain Aguilar, the eventual champion and No. 2-ranked 112er in 4A behind Zweifel, who he beat 6-5 in the Matman title bout.
And while Aguilar topped Richardson 10-0 in the semis, Richardson said it was that kind of competition that will get him ready for another run at a state crown this season.
“It gets me ready for what I need to be at at the end of the season,” he said. “Wrestling Efrain was pretty intense. He’s so quick. It was hard for me to get into rhythm.”
Barton said it was still a good opportunity to learn for Richardson, as he bounced back to beat Nalley 5-2 in the consolation finals, earning a third-place tie with Mike Turner of Auburn-Riverside. True third- and fifth-place matches were not wrestled as those wrestlers had already reached the mandatory five-match limit for the day.
“Billy is disappointed to not be in the finals but Efrain is tough,” Barton said. “He earned it and Billy knows that. It was good to see Billy bounce back. It just wasn’t his day to be in the finals.”
Overall, Richardson said the transition to 112 has been a natural one, especially considering the number of former 103 opponents that moved up with him.
“Everybody at (103) kind of moved up with me,” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
But even better than his own preparation, Richardson said this gives his young teammates (Bremerton has just three seniors) a look at what state competition will be like.
“I think it was good for those young guys to come in and get those tough matches,” he said.
Bremerton got a big boost from 189-pounder Andres Garcia, who began the day with back-to-back pins against Sy Nguyen of Newport and Trevor Dykema of Rogers (of Puyallup). Eventual champ Michael Rossi of Enumclaw defeated Garcia 16-1 in the semifinal, but Garcia rebounded with a 14-1 win against Mt. Spokane’s Teddy Fernau to take a share of third place.
“Andres, he’s wrestling for third right now,” Richardson said while his teammate wrestled. “He’s proving he’s got what it takes as a senior next year to lead our team.”
Cody King was another Barton was pleased with at 125, pinning Curtis Reeve of Olympic before getting pinned in 5:50 by Brian Bitney of Rogers. King bounced back with an 11-5 win before his tournament came to an end in the consolation bracket.
“It’s definitely quality competition,” Barton said. “Cody wrestled really well. And Andres finishing third is a good thing.”
At 119, Jordan Hernandez-Jones pinned South Kitsap’s Reece Jewett in 1 minute, 45 seconds before getting pinned halfway through the third round by Josh Villani of Lake Stevens. Graham-Kapowsin’s Travis Metcalf ended Hernandez-Jones’ day with another third-round pin.
145er Tommy Hanberg also reached his goals coming in, securing a win with a 14-2 major decision against Davis’ Gabe Ramirez in consolation.
“And even just getting a win for Tommy Hanberg was big,” Barton said. “He could have easily been one of them. But that was our goal (for him); get a win at Matman.”
That was just one more example of the team’s inexperienced wrestlers starting to rise to the challenge.
“They’re stepping it up,” Richardson said. “I like it a lot. It’s making our program very, very strong. We’re a lot of freshmen and sophomores this year.”
He said that trend only makes him want to work harder before he graduates.
“It does,” Richardson said. “It makes me want to step up in the weight room. We’re working really hard in there and the young guys are seeing me working hard in there. That makes them want to work harder or they’re feeling like they’re slacking.”
Lake Stevens won the tournament with 188.5 points to edge Enumclaw’s 182.5 to take the team title. Olympic, Central Kitsap, South Kitsap and North Kitsap also competed.
And while the Knights’ next tournament (today at the Klahowya Klassic in Silverdale) isn’t as tough, Barton said the Knights will still have their work cut out for them if they want to be successful.
“It won’t be at this level, but it’s still some good teams,” Barton said. “We’ve just got to be ready for it.”
The Klassic begins at 10 a.m. at Klahowya Secondary School.
In Olympic League action Wednesday, Peninsula topped Bremerton 52-24 in Purdy. Richardson, Hernandez-Jones, King and 135er Jacob Troit logged Bremerton’s wins.