Mat Classic | T-Dome Time for CK, Bremerton wrestlers

Eagles wrestler Connor Veach takes a breather during practice Tuesday. Klahowya Secondary School, the two-time defending Olympic League champions, will send eight wrestlers to the 23rd Mat Classic Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.  - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Eagles wrestler Connor Veach takes a breather during practice Tuesday. Klahowya Secondary School, the two-time defending Olympic League champions, will send eight wrestlers to the 23rd Mat Classic Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

The culmination of the high school wrestling season is finally here, and for seniors, it’s likely the last time they will strap on head gear.

The 23rd Mat Classic state tournament runs Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome, featuring the best grapplers in Washington vying for gold. All four teams in Central Kitsap and Bremerton will compete this weekend, and for some, it’s their last chance for the top crown.

Bremerton High School qualified one wrestler, team captain Lauren Richardson in the 112-pound weight class. The senior, who became the school’s first female state wrestling champion in 2009, is coming off a third-place finish last year. Head coach Jeff Barton said Wednesday that Feb. 19 was circled on the calendar at the start of the season, and her final chance to repeat comes Saturday.

“She’s an extremely hard worker and an exceptional leader,” he added. “It’s been very fun to coach her and it’s been a great four years together.”

Richardson moved up to the 112 division after wrestling 103 in the last three seasons. Her biggest obstacle may be Kiana Witt of Kingston High School, who already beat Richardson twice this year. The Bremerton senior starts her quest for a second state title with a match against Mary Gutierrez of Mabton High School.

“I feel a little pressure on me, but that’s always good because it makes you better,” Richardson said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m pretty set on getting to the finals and wrestling whoever I face at that point.”

Meanwhile, Klahowya Secondary School is coming off its two best seasons in school history with consecutive Olympic League regular season championships, and will send eight grapplers to the state tournament.

The Burchett brothers, sophomore Adam and freshman Brian will compete in the 103-pound weight division and could potentially face each other in the state finals this weekend. Connor Veach is slated to wrestle Irving Jaimez of Prosser High School in the 125-pound division.

Additional Eagles state competitors include Kevin Schiffman (145), Jeff Haga (171), Nehemiah Salo (171), Jared Sell (135) and Jesse Vitartis (171) in the girls tournament.

Salo, a senior making his third appearance at state, managed one victory in each of his last two Mat Classic stints. He said Tuesday that the most anticipated bout at Tacoma could be a matchup with teammate Haga.

The two were selected to compete against one another twice this season, but fans have yet to see them on the mat together. Klahowya opted for forfeiture to avoid injuries late in the season, most recently at regionals last week when Salo gave his match to Haga.

This time, however, both Eagles will take to the mat if given the chance.

“All I’m looking at right now is just getting to the finals, and hopefully destroy Jeff there,” Salo said. “I think that’s the most thrilling part for me right now because we’ve already had a couple of chances to wrestle each other, but didn’t, so now we’ll actually wrestle this one if we can both make it there.”

Haga and Salo each want to finish in the top 3 at Tacoma. The Eagles have enjoyed a successful season that’s included their first Klahowya Klassic title in eight years and an undefeated streak through league play.

“This is the moment we’ve been looking forward to all year,” Haga said. “I just want to come out and wrestle tough, and we’ll see how it goes from there. It would be awesome to beat my teammate in the finals.”

Central Kitsap High School will send two participants to this year’s tournament, half their total from 2010. Senior Joey Troyer is making his third and final trip to Tacoma, having claimed one victory in five matches at the Mat Classic.

Troyer will face off against Todd Beamer High School’s Ares Carpio in the 125-pound weight class. Meanwhile, the Cougars will also be represented by Kyle Lanoue, a 285-pound junior wrestling Woodinville High School’s Jason Burroughs.

Junior Cody Yeik (125) and senior JD Parrish (119) represent Olympic High School at the 2011 Mat Classic. Yeik, a second-place finisher from 2010, wrestles Nick Sweeney of East Valley High School, while Parrish faces Cameron Nolan of Tumwater High School Friday.

Trojans head coach Steve Polillo said Monday that he’s relieved to deliver two veteran grapplers to Tacoma, which eases his mind in the final event of the year.

“These two are experienced warriors,” he added. “They know what’s coming up. I’m not worried about them. I’m not as nervous as I would be if I had younger, less experienced kids so that’s been kind of nice.”

Yeik admitted Monday that he’s a little nervous, but it’s typical for a tournament of this magnitude.

“It’s the last stop to prove yourself and prove who you are out there,” he added. “It’s all about determination, that’s about it.”

Parrish agreed with his teammate as he prepares for his final shot at a state title Friday.

“It’s my last year so I want to make sure all the work I put in is meant for something,” Parrish said.

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