TACOMA — Underdogs. Unknown. Unproven.
Maybe the chip the Union Titans carried into the Tacoma Dome for the state wrestling tournament was manufactured.
Sure, the Titans aren’t an established wrestling power. But with 11 wrestlers in the Class 4A tournament, it was clear that Union had a shot at the program’s first team trophy.
And by the end of the first day of Mat Classic XXIV, that was a growing possibility.
Four Titans reached the state semifinals, and Union is assured of one finalist when the tournament concludes with state championship matches tonight. That’s because Union seniors Dillon Thomas and Matthew Rice will meet in one of the 170-pound semifinals. Tyler Davis (132 pounds) and JoJo Reynolds (152) also advanced to the final four with a pair of wins on Friday.
Evergreen has three semifinalists. Michael Nguyen and Matthew Nguyen are joined in the final four by junior Anthony Thomas (160 pounds).
Union had seven first-round winners, plus a tough overtime loss. The Titans then went 4-3 in the quarterfinals. Union wrestlers didn’t seem intimidated by the stage, even those who are here for the first time.
“Coach always tells me state’s just like any other match,” Reynolds said. “Ignore all the distractions. It’s your match out there on the mat.”
More advice from Reynolds: don’t pay attention to rankings and reputations.
“Rankings mean nothing,” he said. “It’s what you do on the mat, and how you prepare for it that counts.”
Reynolds and Rice often wrestle each other in training. Friday they each had double success to cheer.
“I’ve never been happier for my team,” Rice said after joining Thomas in the 170-pound semifinals. “I’ve never been to state, so it’s an honor to be in the semifinals.”
Thomas said conditioning is the secret to Union’s success.
Thomas, who placed third here last season, doesn’t buy that Union wrestlers are underdogs, or that they have anything to prove.
“I don’t think we’re underdogs at all,” Thomas said, adding that his motivation is split 60-40 between team and individual goals. “I think we work hard enough. I think we deserve success, so we’re going to go after it and get it.”
While much of this success is new to the Titans, it is more of the same for Evergreen’s Nguyen brothers.
Each won twice on Friday to keep alive the duo’s dream of finishing their high school careers as champions. Michael, who won state at 103 pounds last year, is a 113-pound semifinalist this year. Matthew, runner-up at 112 in 2011, is a semifinalist at 120 this time.
“I was emphasizing working hard,” Michael Nguyen said after a pair of convincing wins on Friday. “I feel like it’s time to go harder than I’ve ever gone. Because it would be awesome to see myself and my brother in the finals, and win it together.”
Matthew Nguyen had a competitive quarterfinal, pulling away in the third period for a 7-3 win over Central Valley’s Blake Beard.
“I expected a good match,” Matthew said, noting that he knows and likes Beard from USA Wrestling tournaments. “It was hard to keep the pressure on him, to keep pushing him.”
Evergreen’s Anthony Thomas pushed his way into the semifinals in his first state meet. The junior survived a tight quarterfinal, winning 4-3 over David Fletcher of Spanaway Lake. Union wrestlers who lost in the quarterfinals were sophomore Daniel Rice (106 pounds), junior Cody Hershel (113) and senior Bryson Page (195).
Evergreen’s Ramon Ortiz (126) and Battle Ground’s Juan Arellano (160) also won their first match on Friday then lost in the quarterfinals.
There was one tough first-round result for the Titans. Sophomore Sam Berry lost in overtime to Gig Harbor senior Kyle Iverson, 3-1.