Central Kitsap wrestlers prepare for Tacoma

Olympic High School wrestlers practice Monday for districts. - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Olympic High School wrestlers practice Monday for districts.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

To relax and get their heads straight, Jim Zimny started preparing his team last week for the postseason with a friendly game of dodgeball in the middle of practice.

The Klahowya Secondary School head coach said the 15-minute session of fun and games helped after the grind of final exams and weekly competition.

“I think it fires us up more,” said Klahowya wrestler Kevin Schiffman. “It relaxes us. We still have hard practices with drilling and conditioning, but when we play games like that, we’re still working out and not really thinking about it.”

As the state tournament approaches, Zimny wants to make sure his wrestlers aren’t overstressed.

“It will mentally destroy them and tear them down, worrying too much about competition, because it’s an all-or-nothing game once you get to this point,” he said. “When they lose a match, it’s not the end of the world, so you really have to figure out how to balance that.”

It’s that time of the year when high school wrestling teams begin the final stage of the season with dreams of hoisting gold at the Tacoma Dome.

Zimny said the team has a session of games following each major tournament or meet to ease the tension and reward wrestlers. The vibe at last week’s practice was especially positive as the Eagles clinched their second straight Olympic League championship with a 40-28 win at North Mason High School Jan. 26.

“It was the final cherry on the ice cream sundae,” said Schiffman, who defeated North Mason’s Morgan Grewell in the 145-pound class. “We feel good going into districts now.”

Schiffman said the team’s goal is to get a full lineup qualified for the state tournament. Klahowya sent eight athletes to the Mat Classic last year, but failed to earn an individual crown. This season, the Eagles won the Klahowya Klassic for the first time since 2003, while placing second and ninth at the SunDome Classic and Pacific Coast Championships, respectively.

Klahowya has reached all of its goals so far, Zimny said, and he believes this weekend’s district tournament at Port Angeles is the start of a state championship run for the green and black.

“This has been their season,” he added. “It’s up to them how they succeed. They’re dealing with schoolwork and now they’re going in with their goals for wrestling, and it’s our job as a coaching staff to help them facilitate those goals.”

Meanwhile, Olympic High School will also compete against fellow league rival Klahowya and other top squads at the sub-regional meet Friday and Saturday. Trojans head coach Steve Polillo said Monday that he has a young squad of 15 wrestlers, 10 of which will participate in the postseason for the first time.

Leading a team mostly occupied by underclassmen presents its own challenge, Polillo added, so it requires some adjustment when bracing Olympic for districts, or eventually, the Mat Classic. He believes the younger wrestlers have potential as long as they’re inspired.

“If you can find that spark that’s motivating them, and you can ignite it, then they’ll do all the work themselves, and that is sometimes a challenge,” he added.

Two of Olympic’s experienced wrestlers are juniors Cody Yeik and Caleb O’Halek. Yeik placed second at the Mat Classic last year, while O’Halek took a state title in the 160-pound division.

Yeik said Monday that his motivation for the 2011 postseason comes from missing the first-place podium in the 112-pound class by a point in Tacoma.

“Now I’m still thinking about that match at state,” he added. “It pushes me more than anyone else in the room and I’m ready to go back.”

Bremerton High School will send between 16 and 20 males to the sub-district tournament this weekend at Foss High School, along with five females to White River High School. Lauren Richardson is the team’s only senior and wrestler who competed at the Mat Classic in 2010, and hopes to qualify in her final season.

Knights head coach Jeff Barton said Tuesday that his squad is scrappy and young, but he emphasized that the postseason is also a platform for progression.

“You want them to grow and get a taste of it now so they want to come back next season and go deeper,” Barton added. “I’m trying to get these young guys to understand what it’s all about, and we’ll see what happens.”

Central Kitsap High School will battle in the Narrows League tournament Friday and Saturday at Foss. The Cougars are reeling from a 59-12 loss to rival South Kitsap High School on Jan. 25, but senior Shaq Blair is optimistic about his team’s chances this month.

“Right now, our tempo is to go as high as we can right now,” he said this week. “With that motivation, we tend to push ourselves past our limits, and go further and beyond what we normally do.”

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