Sports

Neumann’s eyes on the prize

Klahowya’s Karl Neumann battles Steven Schramm of Selah at Mat Classic last year. Neumann is hoping to claim Klahowya’s first state title this season. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Klahowya’s Karl Neumann battles Steven Schramm of Selah at Mat Classic last year. Neumann is hoping to claim Klahowya’s first state title this season.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

By AARON MANAGHAN

Sports editor

If you were to tell Karl Neumann he’d be undefeated heading into the final wrestling tournament of his high school career, he wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told him he’d be contending for the state crown, again, he may have put such thoughts by the wayside.

Klahowya wrestling coach Wayne Gizzi posed the later statement earlier this year, believing that Neumann, a seventh-place finisher at 140 pounds at state last year, could indeed challenge for a state crown this year.

“I asked him again (Monday),” Gizzi said. “I said, ‘Did you believe me when I said that?’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t believe it.’ I said, ‘Do you believe me now?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I believe it.’”

The 37-0 Klahowya senior steps into the Tacoma Dome this weekend with both goals within reach. And while they may not have started out as his goals, the 145-pounder isn’t the same grappler who stepped on the mats at the beginning of the season.

Don’t get Neumann wrong — he knew he’d have a successful senior season.

“I was confident I’d have a good season,” Neumann said. “But I’ve had some tough matches. It was not a breeze.”

But after winning his 2A West Central District Region II championship last week, Neumann admits that at a point in the season his goals did change, realizing he could accomplish more than he ever thought possible.

“At the beginning of the year, the state championship wasn’t so much of a big thing,” Neumann said. “But as we went on in the season, my confidence kept building to where I wanted to make it to the state championship.”

“He wants to win this tournament like nothing else,” Gizzi said. “That’s his goal. It’s gonna be an emotion tournament, win or lose.”

Neumann is one of seven Klahowya wrestlers advancing to the 2A WIAA Mat Classic XX State Wrestling Championships, which began yesterday and continue today at the Tacoma Dome.

And while the Eagles know they have a good shot after winning six regional championships and earning some beneficial seedings bracket-wise, Klahowya knows the road ahead will not be an easy one.

“State is like a whole new season. There’s some upsets. People come ready to play. Some people are just happy to be here. We’re happy, but we’re not happy to be there. We’re there to wrestle. And we did ourselves a big favor by placing well at regionals.”

With six regional champions, the Eagles have given the state wrestling community a glimpse at what it can become. Of the seven wrestlers advancing, Neumann is the only senior. 152-pounder Danny Zimny is a junior, 119er Kevin Schiffman is a freshman and Ammon Jensen (125), John Hays (130), Neil Sell (135) and Joe Sawyers (140) are all sophomores.

“It’s nice. We’re getting a little more recognition,” Neumann said. “I’m sure after this year we’ll be turning more heads later on.”

But even now, on the message boards of wrestling fan sites like www.washingtonwrestlingreport.com, the Eagles get little mention, which is just how Klahowya likes it.

“Our whole team feels that way,” Neumann said. “People look at us as seven flukes going in there.”

“I don’t mind if we’re underdogs. It gives us something to work for,” Gizzi added. “Klahowya doesn’t have very much recognition. If you want that respect, you have to earn it this weekend.”

While Neumann has been to state before, he’s glad to have such a strong supporting cast accompanying him this year.

“It feels good to be there with some support,” Neumann said. “It’s tough not having any other seniors. But it’s something I look forward to. That’s how it was for me when I was a freshman.”

Being the only senior, Gizzi said he couldn’t have asked for a better leader on and off the mat.

“He’s done so much for the younger guys,” he said. “He’s leaving a legacy that’s going to last for a while. No matter what happens this weekend, he’s left his mark.”

The role is one Neumann has thrived in, passing on lessons he learned from watching former Klahowya seniors like Jerid Sturman-Camyn his freshman year.

“Whenever I think about that I think about my freshman year and how the seniors were then, we looked up to everything they did,” Neumann said. “They took us under on the mat as leaders and captains.”

Gizzi said Neumann has been a natural fit in the role.

“Kids like him make the whole program better,” Gizzi said. “Sure it’s his numbers, his records. But it’s also his impact with the guys in the room. He’s definitely a special kid.”

When Neumann began wrestling as a scrawny seventh-grader, he had no idea it would give him so much in return.

“I weighed 90 pounds in seventh grade,” Neumann said. “I was skin and bones.”

After neighbor and friend Brandon Truini introduced him to the sport, Neumann had some convincing to do, trying to persuade parents Roy and Loida Neumann to let him wrestle.

“They were really protective,” he said. “I played a year of soccer and a year of tee ball (before wrestling).”

The benefits have been immeasurable.

“Wrestling, it does a lot for kids,” Neumann said. “You hear coaches talking about that, you hear great athletes, great wrestlers talk about that. It’s about how wrestling turns wrestlers into great people. It teaches you a lot.”

With Neumann’s advancement on the mats, he’s also learned a lot that has allowed him to advance off them. When Neumann graduates from Klahowya this spring, he’ll do so with his associate’s degree from Olympic College through the Running Start program. And while he’s been contacted by several collegiate coaches, Neumann plans on making Mat Classic his final tourney.

“It’s a big commitment. It’s a six-day-a-week sport, if not seven,” Neumann said. “I’d rather put all that time into school.”

But even Neumann, who wants to study business, has had his doubts.

“As more colleges contact you, you start second-guessing yourself,” he said. “But I feel it’s the right decision.”

With his future becoming clearer, Neumann is focused entirely on his last go.

“The coaches have been telling me, ‘This is your last time to hang and bang,’” Neumann said. “’You have to take advantage of the time you’ve got there.’ I’m gonna take advantage of it and enjoy it.”

In a tough 145 bracket, Neumann could face two two-time state champs in Black Hills’ Jimmy Belleville and Yuder Pech of Toppenish.

“I have a pretty tough weight class this year,” he said. “I’ve seen them wrestle. I’ve just got to believe. I do believe I can beat them.”

And that mental toughness is what he believes will give him an edge.

“I think a lot of it is mental focus,” Neumann said. “I really worked a lot on that. Just telling myself, ‘I won’t lose. I can’t lose.’ If you think you’re going to win, you are going to.”

Win or lose, Gizzi is excited to see what the future holds for Neumann and his Eagle teammates in today’s finals.

“This group, they never cease to amaze me,” he said. “I wouldn’t put anything by them. And I certainly wouldn’t count them out.”

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