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Mat Classic: Union’s Cassidy keeps family’s Dome tradition strong

She’s among several semifinalists after first day of state wrestling championships

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor
Published: February 17, 2023, 7:11pm

TACOMA — For Niah Cassidy, the Tacoma Dome feels like a second home.

After all, the Union junior and her family have a scrapbook full of memories at the Mat Classic state wrestling championships.

Saturday, Cassidy will try to do something neither her older sister, Nevaeh, or older brother, Elijah, could do – reach the state championship match.

Friday, Cassidy rolled through her first two Girls 3A/4A 125-pound matches at Mat Classic XXXIV. She pinned Alyssa Reyes of Chief Sealth in the third period before winning her quarterfinal match by pinning Haliyah Yanez of Davis in the second period.

That put Cassidy into the semifinals for the second consecutive year. Ranked No. 2 in her weight class, Cassidy is looking to break through into the championship round.

27 Photos
Wrestlers warm up before the start of Mat Classic XXXIV on Friday, February 17, 2023, at the Tacoma Dome.
2023 Mat Classic, day 1 Photo Gallery

“Everybody wants to be a state champ but this is the first time I’ve really had the confidence that it is possible,” Cassidy said.

Niah Cassidy is now a two-time semifinalist like Nevaeh, who reached the semifinals in 2018 and 2020 while placing in the top four three times.

Younger siblings often feel like they have something to prove. Cassidy is no different.

“I kind of want to show everybody, my brother and sister, that I’m just like you guys,” she said.

But in her older brother, Niah Cassidy finds extra motivation. Elijah Cassidy was a state title contender last year before injuring his shoulder in the 145-pound semifinals. After wrestling through intense pain in the third-place semifinal, he couldn’t compete in the fifth-place match.

“Watching him, seeing how hard he worked and how close he was, it made me want to work even harder because I don’t want to come just short like that,” Niah Cassidy said.

Different styles, same goal

Owen Pritchard likes to ramp up the pressure from the start. Eventually, that usually leads to the Skyview junior wearing down his opponent.

Gage Newman likes to bid his time. The Columbia River senior has found that’s the best way to triumph once his opponent inevitably makes a mistake.

Both Pritchard and Newman played to their strengths and found themselves in the state semifinals.

Pritchard used his relentless style to earn a first-round pin and a 10-2 quarterfinal victory in the Class 4A 138-pound bracket.

“My mindset has been to push the pace and make my opponents tired so that I can come out on top,” Pritchard said. “That’s what my coaches have been training me to do all year.”

Despite placing third last year, Pritchard still felt some gnawing nerves before Friday’s matches. But after two decisive victories, the No. 2 wrestler in his weight class is hoping for a spot in the finals and a potential regional rematch against reigning champion Mitchell Neiner of South Kitsap.

“The key for tomorrow is just to stay calm and listen to my coaches,” Pritchard said. “Eat right, sleep right, do all that other stuff right besides wrestling.”

Newman chose a prudent path to the 152-pound semifinals. After winning his Class 2A first-round match 5-3 over Lakewood’s Cris Alvia, he protected an early quarterfinal lead before defeating East Valley-Yakima’s Colin Attaway 6-0.

“For me I just wrestle my style,” Newman said. “I wrestle smart. I wrestle slow. I let them make the mistake.”

No 5-ranked Newman will have a tough semifinal test against No. 2-ranked Alonzo Lopez of Selah. Regardless, the Rapids wrestler has already met his goal of surpassing his eighth-place performance last year.

“It’s just the work I’ve put in all year,” Newman said. “I had this goal to place higher than eighth. That’s that I came here to do.”

Prairie champs on hunt for repeat

Clark County’s two defending state champions, both from Prairie, reached the Class 3A state semifinals.

Sophomore Faith Tarrant continued to dominate her opponents in a quest for a second 235-pound girls state title.

Tarrant improved to 33-0 this season, with all wins coming by pin. She needed just 1 minute, 22 seconds to win her quarterfinal match over No. 9-ranked Riley Ost of Stanwood.

Falcons senior Alex Ford, who won last year’s title at 170-pounds, survived a scare in the quarterfinals by edging Stanwood’s Ryder Bumgarner 10-9.

No. 2-ranked Ford trailed No. 7 Bumgarner 5-0 after a nearfall in the second period. But Ford escaped and followed with a flurry of scoring to lead 9-7 heading into the third period. There he got one point for an escape before Bumgarner was credited for two points in the final minute due to stalling penalties.

Sophomores step closer to titles

Fresh off regional championships, Skyview sophomore JJ Schoenlein and Union sophomore Noah Koyama both look primed to contend for Class 4A titles.

Schoenlein, the top-ranked wrestler at 170-pounds, notched two pins to end a pair of matches he was dominating.

Koyama is into the 132-pound semifinals after beating reigning champ Stone Hartford of South Kitsap last weekend. Koyama held off Isai Perez of Davis 7-2 in the quarterfinals.

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Koyama placed third last year at 113 pounds. He said wrestling at a heavier weight suits him.

“This year I’m not cutting as much weight so my mood is much better,” he said. “Also my confidence is definitely a lot higher. It’s really just wrestling smart and staying out of my head. I know I can beat anyone in here just so long as I wrestle my game and stay confident.”