Runner-up Cougs are tourney tough

"This, reasons Central Kitsap High School wrestling coach Doug Pecha, is the Cougars’ time of year.Not that the months leading up have been a wasteland, mind you. Pecha’s Cougars are an unbeaten 6-0 in Olympic League dual matches, with a crucial set-to at Sequim looming Thursday night (the Cougars are idle tonight while Sequim visits defending league champion Olympic).But the CK Matmen Tournament, the 23rd renewal of which took place Saturday (Jan. 15), signals the beginning of the transition from season to postseason.And, as much as Pecha said the Cougs would like to top the standings at the end of the dual-meet season, it’s the postseason — the league, regional and state tournaments — that really makes his guys salivate.“This is a team that will shine as the tournaments go on,” said Pecha, doing a bit of glowing himself after the Cougars’ second-place Matmen finish — their 179.5 points falling short of only Enumclaw (200.5) in the 13-team field. “This is the time of year we really look forward to.”The Matmen gave Pecha’s wrestlers a chance to rev up on their home mats in anticipation of the big-meet portion of their season. And they did so in a big way, with two individual champions — Preston Chadwick at 112 pounds and Scott Martin at 140 — five finalists and 10 semifinalists.Pecha pointed out the significant improvement over CK’s eighth-place finish on the 1999 Matmen mats.“This is the first time we’ve done this well since I’ve been here,” said Pecha, an assistant with the program before taking on head-man status last year. “I’m really happy with the way the guys performed today.”Olympic also had two individual champs in the day-long tourney. Justin Breckel defended his 275-pound title, and Ozzie Saxon — the 1999 champ at 122 pounds — won again, this time at 130.The Trojans were eighth in the team standings, with 94 points. Bremerton was 12th in the field with 31.Besides the championships from Chadwick and Martin, Central got runner-up finishes from Scott Eickmeyer at 119, Joseph Sencil at 125 and Chad Johnson at 145. Rusty Hedman (103) and Brian Herricht (215) both tied for third, and both Garrett Jackson (171) and Alan Chattin (189) scored fourth-place points.“Everybody fought to get the best finish he could,” Pecha said of the team effort which left the Cougars atop such powers as South Kitsap (third, 173.5), Auburn-Riverside (fourth, 159) and Sumner (fifth, 154). “We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting better.”Pecha pointed to Johnson, a first-year wrestler as a senior who won convincingly twice before running up against Sumner’s Cory Duvela in the 145-pound final.“He’s just starting to learn how to wrestle,” Pecha said of Johnson. “But he’s come a long way. Last week (at the Snohomish Panther Invitational) he was third, he’s second this week ... it’s been great to watch.”Chadwick (21-0) and Breckel (20-1) both dominated their finals. Chadwick won by a 12-4 decision over Aaron Kipperberg of South Kitsap, while Breckel was all over Enumclaw’s Kenny Clerget for an 8-1 decision.For Chadwick, a defending state Class 4A champion who won his first two matches with first-round pins, the final was typical of the competition he’s been seeing from top-level opponents — in a word, conservative.“It was a nice win,” Chadwick said, “but it was frustrating. I didn’t feel like he (Kipperberg) was doing anything. I was trying to chase him around out there.“That’s happened quite a bit this year,” Chadwick added.Saxon scored late in his final to beat Sumner’s Jeremy Larance 7-5. Down 5-4, the Olympic senior scored an escape to tie the match with 25 seconds left, then got the deciding takedown just two seconds before the match would have gone to overtime.“He was a little stronger than I thought, but it’s a W,” said Saxon, who admitted he had to adjust to Larance’s strength and style in mid-match. “He kept blocking my shots,” Saxon said. “I wanted to go high (upper-body), but he was better at it than I was, so I had to change and go low.”“It’ll be good for him,” said Saxon’s coach at Olympic, Darryl Smith. “You wrestle all different styles during a season, so it was good experience.”Martin also had to pull out some late heroics to beat Auburn-Riverside’s Casey Knudtson 7-4 in the 140-pound finale. Knudtson escaped with 15 seconds left to pull within one point, but Martin needed only four seconds to put the match away with a takedown.“He’s a strong guy,” Martin said of Knudtson. “I couldn’t compete with that, so I had to be patient. If I’d tried to go upper-body with him, I’d have been toast.”Breckel said the Matmen title made up for missing the finals at Snohomish the previous week.“That wasn’t going to happen again,” said Breckel, who scored two takedowns on the heavier Clerget — once diving headlong onto the Enumclaw wrestler after knocking him off his feet, then simply pulling him down with brute strength for third-round insurance points."

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