Sell ties top KSS finish

Eagles’ state tourney reflects up-and-down season.


Sports editor

TACOMA — A few more seconds proved to be the difference for Neil Sell.

The Klahowya sophomore 135-pounder stepped into the 2A WIAA Mat Classic State Wrestling Championships with lofty goals. Those quickly accelerated toward reality, as Sell won both his opening matches Friday to lock up a spot on the podium, the first Klahowya sophomore to do so. Another big win and Sell found himself in the title match.

“Before my first match, I though I was going to defecate my pants,” Sell said. “I was so nervous, standing in front of thousands of people. My coach told me, ‘Go after it,’ so I did.”

That resulted in a quick 1-minute, 18-second pin of Blaine’s Jamal Mallak to open his first state tourney.

“My second match I was still nervous,” Sell said. “I just approached it exactly the same way.”

The results too were similar, as it took Sell 2:23 to pin Clarkston’s Matt Powell and locked up a semifinal berth.

“I was really excited after I won the second match,” Sell said. “I was placing. No sophomore had placed from our school before.”

But the best was still yet to come.

Lined up opposite tournament favorite and top-seeded Dawson Patrick of Mt. Baker, who took third place at 125 in 2007, Sell hung around, outlasting the senior for a deep third-round pin in 5:46 to advance to the title match.

“I think I was shaking for the next hour and a half,” he said. “I was excited, nervous. Then I was excited again. Then nervous again.”

This time he’d battle Bellingham senior Tyler Perry. And while Sell fell behind 12-0 early, he stormed back with a vengeance, nearly pinning Perry when time expired in the second round. And while with a few more seconds, Sell likely would have gotten the pin call, he would have to settle for second, falling 14-8 when the match was said and done.

“He was under the radar, but all week he’s been talking about winning the state championship,” Klahowya coach Wayne Gizzi said. “That’s why it hurts. He set those expectations high.”

And while the loss stung, the sophomore said he hopes to vie for the crown again next year after tying Jerid Sturman-Camyn and Darren Frasquillo for the school’s top finish.

“I hope so,” Sell said. “That’d be great.”

Sell’s tournament in a way acted as a microcosm of the Eagles’ tourney as a whole. As the team was riding the wave of momentum created by the team’s regional crown a week earlier, winning six individual regional titles, that wave seemed to crest a little too soon.

“This season has been a lot of ups and downs,” Gizzi said. “There’s been high points and low points.”

Klahowya senior Karl Neumann, who entered hoping to battle for the 145 title, fell in a narrow 12-11 loss to Prosser’s David Huizar.

“It was disappointing,” Neumann said. “I felt I could have wrestled a lot better. I gave up too many points in the beginning.”

While he rebounded to finish fifth, nothing took the sting away.

“It’s hard settling for less,” Neumann said. “I had my mind set on it. It’s been a fun ride though.”

It could have been worse, as several Klahowya grapplers had tough outings. Junior Danny Zimny got pinned late in his first-round match at 152 with Lynden’s Jeff Yoder before Othello’s Kevin Smith knocked him out 17-11. Joe Sawyers, the top seed at 140, also went a tough two-and-out, as did 125er Ammon Jensen and 119er Kevin Schiffman. And while John Hays (130) won his opening match, a 6-2 decision against Sterling Yates of RA Long, he was hurt in a 21-12 loss to Reuben Lopez and had to injury default out.

“We had another tough first day,” Gizzi said. “The reason why it’s so tough on the guys is because they all expected to be in the placing round. In my book, win or lose, they’re all champions.”

The nice side is that all but Neumann return, as Jensen, Sawyers and Hays are all sophomores and Schiffman just a freshman.

“It was heart-breaking. Those guys, you could tell they did not want it to end,” Gizzi said. “What we did during the season is very small in the grand scheme of things. This I think will leave them hungry.”

No outing was tougher for Gizzi than Neumann’s, who entered the tournament undefeated.

“It’s always tough when you have those high expectations on yourself,” he said. “That guy wants to be a state champion. He is a champion. He should be very proud. He’s an incredible wrestler.”

While the loss was still fresh, Neumann had no problem reflecting on some of the lighter sides to his senior season.

“It’s been a fun ride, just living out the whole senior season,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. All the coaches and teammates, even though we’re not all best friends off the mat, we’re still pretty close.”

While before winning regionals the team flew under the radar somewhat, Gizzi said he doesn’t expect that trend will continue.

“That’s over. But I like that,” he said. “I think you should have to earn your respect here.”

With the bulk of the team returning, everyone was already optimistic for what next year has in store.

“We just think next year, we’re just gonna get better,” Sell said. “We’ve all been wrestling together since we were in junior high. Me and John Hays, we first started against each other when we were four.”

Once you have a Mat Classic under your belt, everything gets a little easier to fathom, Sell said.

“Now we know we can do it,” he said. “Now that we’ve all been in the T-Dome, the Tacoma Dome gets smaller and smaller every time you wrestle here.”

While the team had hoped for a top-10 finish, the Eagles still scored 36 points, good for 18th. But again, Gizzi said that should only fuel this team’s desire.

“They want back and they want to scale that ladder,” Gizzi said. “They have high expectations and that’s a good thing.”

In fact, Sell said the team wrestled better than the results showed, points-wise.

“The scores don’t reflect how our team wrestled,” he said.

While Neumann won’t be around to see it as a wrestler, he said he hopes to see this group continue to excel as a fan and as an alum.

“I think Gizzi is doing a great job with the program,” he said. “I think everybody that wrestled today wrestled to their full capacity.”

And that’s all a coach can ask for, Gizzi said.

“This was a great group of kids,” he said. “They are very selfless kids. They care about each other. They absolutely give all they can to this sport.”