By AARON MANAGHAN
TACOMA — The toughest challenge of his high school wrestling career loomed heavy in front of Billy Richardson.
The Bremerton senior set the bar high for himself this year, aiming for the 112-pound championship at the 2008 3A WIAA Mat Classic State Wrestling Championships, held last weekend at the Tacoma Dome. But after placing sixth at the weight class, which was considered by many the toughest bracket regardless of classification, Richardson said he felt no shame in the placement.
“I felt pretty pleased,” he said of his overall effort. “I went out there and wrestled aggressively. But stuff happens.”
Bremerton coach Jeff Barton agreed with the assessment of the bracket being among the state’s toughest.
“This year, that was one of the toughest weight classes in the tournament,” Barton said. “We wrestle this tournament again next weekend and it’d be scrambled a little bit.”
Richardson began the tournament strongly, winning his first two matches via pinfall: A 1-minute, 11-second pin of Chief Sealth’s Edgar Vazquez followed by a 3:11 fall of Auburn-Riverside’s Michael Turner. With a semifinal spot secure, Richardson locked up a placement on the first day.
That set up the toughest match of his tournament, taking on Sunnyside’s Isaac Romero, the runner-up at 112 a year ago.
After a heart-breakingingly close 6-5 loss, Romero, the eventual champion with a 3-2 win against North Thurston’s Patrick Mucha in the final, Richardson appeared physically and emotionally drained.
“It took a lot of wind out of his sails,” Barton said. “It’s pretty tough to bounce back. It’s easy to say, but pretty tough to do.”
Richardson’s loss set him up for a fourth match this year against Olympic’s Jesse Borcherding. This time, Borcherding had the advantage, taking a 7-3 win en route to fourth place himself.
That loss landed Richardson in the fifth/sixth-place final with White River’s Justin Purves. Purves took that match 7-1.
“It’s frustrating coming here and losing that last high school match,” Richardson said. “But I was just exhausted from having that semi.”
While the bracket’s classification as the toughest is arbitrary, there’s no denying that is was a stacked bracket. In washingtonwrestlingreport.com’s 112-pound rankings, six 3A 112ers at state were ranking in the top 10 regardless of classification. In the 3A-specific rankings, all 10 advanced.
Six placed at state last year at either 103 or 112, including last year’s 103 champ Purves. Richardson actually topped Mucha 12-6 at regionals the week before.
“Look at the kids up there,” Barton said, pointing to the podium during the 112 awards ceremony. “Mucha’s face with that big black eye. That’s a tough group of kids.”
Even though Richardson couldn’t get a state title, he said the outpouring of support from the Washington wrestling community, including the wrestlers he competed against, at the tournament made for a nice consolation.
“It’s kind of cool knowing I got a lot of respect from people around here for going what I do,” Richardson said. “It helped me a lot from my freshman year to my senior year.”
Richardson’s wins accounted for the bulk of Bremerton’s 11 team points good for 36th place of the 65 schools with wrestlers. Enumclaw won the team title with 124.5 points while Yelm was second with 119.5.
Richardson’s younger sister Lauren, a freshman, made her debut in the state girls tournament, with a controversial first-round match.
In her state opener against Curtis’ Edilene Cuevas following a first-round bye, Cuevas advanced when Lauren was disqualified. Leading 12-10 with just seconds before the end of the match, Lauren slammed Cuevas to the mat, injuring Cuevas’ shoulder.
The extent of the injury led Cuevas to withdraw, but not until after coaches and supports of Cuevas continuously yelled for her to stay on the mat.
Barton said his main qualm was that Cuevas appeared fine in her next match.
“Is that really how you want to win?” Barton questioned.
When asked whether or not Lauren, who wrestled against boys all season before the postseason, would have been called for the same disqualification against a male wrestler, observers of the match, from other coaches to media members, all said they believed it would not have been called had she been wrestling a boy.
Lauren bounced back with a 5-0 win against Ferndale’s Jade Mustappa, before getting eliminated via a 3:58 pin to Kiona-Benton’s Delene Rucker.
The siblings were happy to have wrestled together at a state tournament.
“It’s pretty cool just to know she’s at that level,” Billy said of his younger sister. “She’ll win it next year.”
With the meet ending Billy’s career, Barton said his contributions to Bremerton’s program on and off the mat won’t be soon forgotten.
“He’s put a lot of work outside of the room as well as in the room,” Barton said. “It’s been a ripple affect to some degree. He’s been a really good leader this year as far as helping the young kids out. That’s been good. He’s taken a couple sophomores under his wing.”
Billy is set to visit two Colorado-based colleges — Mesa State College and the University of North Colorado — in coming weeks as he hopes to continued his wrestling career collegiately.
“It’s interesting. I’m just ready to step it up to go to college,” he said. “It’s a fresh start.”
Barton said he’s excited about the possibility, but will still miss having Billy around on the Bremerton mats. It was that fact that made the tournament both enjoyable and bittersweet.
“It’s kind of bittersweet today,” Barton said. “When I walk out of the dome, I’ll start thinking, ‘Billy’s done. I’ll never have Billy again.’”
But he’s glad another Richardson is stepping right in in Lauren.
“She just go, go, goes,” Barton said. “She was here, she got a taste of it. I know she’ll be back here next year.”
And while Billy may not have gotten the state crown he hoped for, Barton said he still has plenty to be proud of.
“Whenever one door closes, another one opens up,” Barton said. “You can’t take anything away from what he’s accomplished. This wasn’t the Saturday we had in mind as far as the outcome, but you can’t take away anything he’s done.”