29th Matman one of toughest yet

Central Kitsap High School’s Kent Manalo takes South Kitsap’s Josiah Kipperberg for a ride during their 119-pound match Saturday during the first round of the CK Matman Tournament. Kipperberg went on to win the match by a 13-7 decision. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Central Kitsap High School’s Kent Manalo takes South Kitsap’s Josiah Kipperberg for a ride during their 119-pound match Saturday during the first round of the CK Matman Tournament. Kipperberg went on to win the match by a 13-7 decision.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

One of Central Kitsap wrestling coach Mike Harter’s goals when he took over the program more than two years ago was to keep the Cougars facing formidable foes.

One of the ways he’s continued to do that is through CK’s own Matman Tournament, which in its 29th year proved to be one of the toughest yet.

Proving that point was how long the tournament ended up running. Starting at 10 a.m., the final finals matches ended at about 9 p.m., a testament to how hard the tourney was, Harter said.

“The tournament went really well, it really did,” Harter said. “It was a little longer than we wanted it to be, but that was about the competition. There were a lot of very, very long matches.”

Powerhouse Lake Stevens beat out Enumclaw for the tourney’s team title, 218.5 points to 203.5. South Kitsap came in third with 151.5 while Rogers of Puyallup and Auburn Riverside, even without last year’s 112-pound state 4A runner-up Michael Mangrum, made up the top five.

Central Kitsap took 10th place while Olympic finished right behind them in 11th. And while the finish put them in the lower half of the field, both coaches said they were pleased with their squads’ showings, considering the field included two 4A state champions and a number of state placers.

“We had some guys we thought would do better than they did,” Harter said. We lost some matches we should not have lost. Some of that is inexperience on the part of a couple kids.

“But we also had some kids really step up and really perform.”

Olympic coach Rick Griffith felt similarly, saying he saw proof that his team is continuing to move in the right direction.

“We’re doing well,” Griffith said. “That’s the big thing is seeing kids like Caleb (Williams) and those kids progressing.”

Williams was one of many pleasant surprises for area schools, as he went 2-2 in the tournament. But in beating AC Davis’ Cody Wolff, Griffith said this was not the same Williams that started off with seven straight losses this season.

“Those are the things you hope for, the things you work for,” Griffith said. “He’s just doing so well.”

But perhaps no surprise was greater on Saturday than that of Central Kitsap’s Franco Cruz, who tore through a 125-pound weight class before falling to Narrows League rival Jeremy Knowlton of Shelton in the championship.

“That was a pleasant surprise,” Harter said. “Mangrum wasn’t here and we were on that side of the bracket. So that might have been different. But Franco wrestled a great tournament.”

Olympic’s Kevin Siperek also had a nice day, wrestling his way to the 275-pound title bout. Siperek ended up drawing Shelton rival Zach Corbett, whom he beat the week before in a close dual match. And although he fell 13-3, he took down Bethel’s Zach Smith and Spanaway Lake’s Jason Marshall in the process.

“Kevin’s just wrestled well this year,” Griffith said. “He’s doing things right and it’s paying off.”

Both squads probably would have earned more team points, but after tournament organizers realized the brackets had all wrestlers in the consolation finals exceeding the state’s mandated match limit, they decided to award third- and fifth-place ties.

Also making the podium for Central Kitsap was Corey Mason at 112, who won one match 4-2 in overtime against Olympic’s James Jagger, and followed that with a 5-minute, 59-second pin against Bremerton’s Ean Phillips.

119-pounders Kent Manalo and Blake Eickmeyer were set to do battle with each other before having to settle for the fifth-place tie. But another CK wrestler that shined was JoJo Lancaster at 145.

Lancaster dropped his first match but rallied back to pin Mount Spokane’s Corbin Richardson, Newport’s Scott Cairns, Oly’s Williams and won an injury default over SK’s Brady Winslow. He would have battled Kyle Hughes of Lake Stevens for third, but settled for the tie.

“I’m pleased with JoJo,” Harter said. “He didn’t have a good first match. He very possibly could have been in the final too. But he came back and took third with four strong matches along the way.”

Olympic saw 189-pounder and sophomore Laurice Gerig place fifth after defaulting to Lake Steven’s Jon Wilbourne due to discomfort in his hip.

Joe Flores, at 125, took third for Olympic. The Trojans’ lone senior, Flores said he thought he could have made the final, but was still happy with his finish. Flores fell to Cruz 9-2 in the championship bracket semifinals.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Flores said. “I think I just need to give it my all and try my hardest. I’m looking forward to getting to state and placing top 10.”

Griffith said there’s no reason Flores can’t make it.

“Joe is wrestling well,” he said. “The great thing about Joe is he always comes back and gives 100 percent the next time.”

In terms of the overall competition at the tourney, Griffith said it’s a great way to get ready for the next few weeks of the season, and eventually the big tournament — state.

“At this point in the season there’s always things to learn,” he said. “We’ll go back and talk to the kids. ‘OK, what do we need to change?’ But we’re doing well.”

Getting area kids ready for the next level is exactly why Harter said he goes for some of the state’s toughest teams.

“My goal is to get the very best kids and you see it in the finals,” Harter said, mentioning state champs like Lake Steven’s Kelly Kubec. “There’s some of the best kids in the state here right now.”

But he also said facing that kind of talent exposes some things to work on.

“Primarily, the difference in the intensity level, that you can’t just be intense for 5:50,” Harter said. “You have to be intense for 6 minutes. I think a couple guys realized that today.”

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