KSS claims regional crown

Eagles sending seven to state.


Sports editor

TACOMA — Klahowya coach Wayne Gizzi knew his grapplers would do well at the 2A West Central District Region II Wrestling Championships. But just how well the team did was better than even he could have hoped.

“They definitely lived up to all my expectations, no doubt,” Gizzi said. “I told them, ‘All I expect is all you got.’”

The Eagles got that and more, advancing seven wrestlers to the finals, with six winning individual champions. All those team points added up as well, giving Klahowya the team regional title heading into Saturday’s WIAA Mat Classic XX, the state’s high school wrestling championships. Klahowya scored 181 points to beat out North Mason’s 170.5 for the regional crown, held at Washington High School.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Klahowya 130-pounder John Hays said of his team’s showing.

Hays was one of six Eagles to earn crowns and part of a Klahowya sophomore class that continues to look better and better on the mats. In addition to Hays’ title, sophomores Ammon Jensen (125), Neil Sell (135), Joe Sawyers (140), junior Danny Zimny (152) and senior Karl Neumann (145) all found themselves atop the podium while freshman Kevin Schiffman (119) also advanced to the finals.

“Those guys really earned it,” Gizzi said. “We had a great week of practice. No distractions. Just solid, very intense practices. They were ready.”

In the 125-pound final, a bracket shaken up when sub-regional champ and bracket favorite Sasha Jantz, of Kingston, failed to make weight by just .1 pounds, according to Kingston coach Bobby Reece, Jensen made his move, pinning Kyle Curtin of Eatonville in just 38 seconds. He then beat Ryan Herting of Steilacoom 9-4 to get to the final. He met another Cruiser in the final, Zach Schrader, and built a 5-2 lead before Schrader made it close with a take. After Jensen scored a reversal in the third however, he locked up the crown 7-4.

“It felt great,” Jensen said of the win. “Though he was a freshman, I’d never seen him before. It felt great to come out on top.”

Jensen, who was battling illness at the tourney, knows firsthand why underclassmen can’t be overlooked, advancing to state last year as a freshman himself.

“It helps not to underestimate them,” he said. “Last year, I went to state as a freshman. They can be as good as seniors.”

Hays was one of the most pleasant surprises of the day for the Eagles, taking down top-seeded Kenny Houser, of Fife, 9-5 in the first round. He then topped JJ Blake of Port Townsend in a tight 15-14 battle before winning the title 10-6 against Steilacoom’s David Flynn. Hays actually trailed 4-2 early and again at 6-4 before scoring a take after an escape to get his first lead at 7-6 in the third period. Hays then caught Flynn and put him on his back for the near fall.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hays, fourth at sub-regionals, said. “I expected to come in and take third, wrestle my way in.”

He said the coaches at Klahowya have been the biggest help in his ongoing development. Last year, Hays finished the same tourney as an alternate.

“They’re really supportive,” Hays said. “They’ve helped me all year. When I do something wrong, they point it out. I need that constructive criticism.”

At 135, Sell pinned his way through the field, first taking down Tyler Keilman (of Eatonville) in 1:29 before sending Darrin Humphrey (of Steilacoom) into consolation with a 4:16 pin. In the final, Sell battled Joe Hutchinson tough, building a 7-5 lead before pinning Hutchinson in the second round, 3:34.

A JV wrestler for some of the season, Joe Sawyers ran through the 140 bracket, opening with a 2:46 pin of Colin Michel of Eatonville. He then beat Washington’s Clayton Hines 13-7 to advance to the finals. In that match, he outlasted Dain Landholm of Fife for a 7-3 win.

“That was great,” Gizzi said. “We had kids like Joe Sawyers, who was JV half the year. We had kids that lost to (wrestlers) last week (who won Saturday). We had No. 4 seeds winning it.”

Karl Neumann stayed undefeated in his senior campaign, opening up with back-to-back 17-2 technical falls against Fife’s Travis Markham and teammate Stephen Hays, who ended up in sixth after an injury default. In the final against Washington’s Artie Goras, Neumann was challenged, trailing 3-2 through the first two rounds. In the third, Neumann went to work however, earning a take to go up 4-3 before catching Goras on his back for a near fall. He would go on to win 9-4.

Zimny capped off the title winners, pinning Cameron Kastner (of Washington) in 2:47 before edging Adam Wolfe, of Steilacoom, 5-3. The title match was just as close, with Zimny taking down Brett Johnson 6-4.

“I told the guys before the finals, ‘I want you to pretend this is for state,’” Gizzi said, as the top three go on. “They stepped up.”

Schiffman advanced to the finals as a freshman, pinning Eatonville’s Ryan Parrish in 1:46 before winning 6-2 against Brandon Martin, another Cruiser. John Cushman of Steilacoom took the title however, pinning Schiffman in 4:45.

171-pounders Caleb Hiller and Donny McCarty met in the fifth/sixth-place final, with McCarty coming up with a 15-4 major decision. Pete Amador (103), Nehemiah Salo (135) and Stephen Hays (145) all finished in sixth place while Jeff Haga (160) and Brett Harkness (215) also participated.

As far as the team’s sophomore core goes, Jensen said it’s just the beginning for a core group that should continue improving throughout their high school careers.

“Our class has always been pretty good,” he said. “It feels good to come in first because it opens the gateway for placing in state. It makes us feel like we can put ourselves on the top 10 in the state board.”

A sentiment, and goal, everyone shared.

“That was our goal, finish being first in regionals baby, first in regionals,” John Hays said. “Hopefully we can make it onto the reader board at state.”

Even without the team title, Gizzi said he would have been happy with the Eagles’ efforts regardless.

“This is what I care about though,” he said. “If we win or not, it’s wrestling smart.”