WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi wrestling coach Clayton Hudiburg knew something was wrong.
After a 43-24 throttling at the hands of Richland Dec. 8, Hudiburg realized his wrestlers were going into matches with the wrong attitude - they were expecting to lose.
To the seven-year head coach, it was unacceptable.
"I really knew on paper we were a better team then they (the Bombers) were," Hudiburg said. "I looked at us, and some of our kids weren't expecting to win these matches when we should have been. The coaching staff agreed and we had a heart-to-heart with the kids and said, ‘We're going to push you to the next level.'"
The Blue Devils refocused their efforts at practice - cutting down on socializing, focusing on executing several core techniques instead of a multitude of different styles and increasing the efficiency of their training regimen.
Those changes didn't make much of a difference in the final Columbia Basin Big Nine standings, Wa-Hi still struggled to an 0-7 finish, but it paid off when the Blue Devils hit the mats at Chiawana Saturday.
Blue Devils Luis Santana (195 pounds) and Anthony Stalder (138) took district titles to advance to regionals this weekend at Moses Lake.
Teammates Logan Reardon finished second (220); Zach Anderson (152), Quinn Piver (285) and Wil Babbitt (120) grabbed third-place finishes; and Zane Henderson (170) finished fourth to round out the Blue Devils' regional compliment at seven.
And what's more, the Blue Devils finally took down Richland, finishing fifth at 164.5 points to the Bombers' sixth-place finish and 140 points.
"It (Wa-Hi's new practice structure) was a bit of a gamble, because we did it - we really pushed the kids hard," Hudiburg said. "Some of the kids we lost because they just couldn't hack it, but the kids that stuck it out and stuck to the game plan, it produced for them.
"That's part of why I was so excited," Hudiburg said. "To see these kids who worked so hard come and open some eyes and surprise some people."
Anthony Stalder, the lone senior on this season's squad, took the district title at 138 after manhandling Eisenhower's Ricardo Badillo to a 19-2 technical fall and then defeating host Chiawana's Clayton Smith, 5-3.
He's found success this season after dropping seven pounds to wrestle at his current weight class.
"We got him to the right weight class this year," Hudiburg said. "He's a strong kid and pretty lean naturally, but he walks around naturally around 143-144. Trying to wrestle at 145, he was wrestling against kids who were cutting down from 160, so he wasn't really able to uses his strength to much of an advantage."
Stalder, who was confident about his chances heading into the regional tournament with a first seed, faces Lewis and Clark's Kyle Davis to start his bracket.
"It just shows you how tough you are, how hard you can push yourself," Stalder said of his sport. "I'm not the most technique guy, I just go out there and wrestle as tough as I can."
Stalder is 28-7 this season.
Wa-Hi's other champ, Luis Santana, is one of five juniors making the trip to Moses Lake. He defeated Wenatchee's Isaiah VanWeerhuizen 10-5 and pinned Guillermo Magallanes with 1:35 gone in the first round to earn his regional berth. He also dropped a weight class this season, going from 220 to 195, and practiced his sport over the summer at the Washington Intensive wrestling camp, a week-long camp in Spokane.
"I went to a camp, I trained harder, I figured out some of my mistakes, and it got me the district championship," Santana said matter-of-factly.
He faces Mead's Trevor Rowe in the first round of the regional play-in.
Sophomore Babbitt faces Mead's Riley Jackson in the 120 class. Despite being the lone underclassman in Wa-Hi's delegation to regionals, Hudiburg wasn't surprised to see Babbitt succeed.
"He's (Babbitt) got a fairly strong backround, with his brother wrestling and he was in our youth wrestling club, too," Hudiburg said. "That kind of helped him step in as a freshman and have some success. He also hates to lose. He may not be the most polished kid out there, but he finds ways to win. He's got some tough cookies ahead of him at districts, but if there's anyone that can pull off some upsets, it's him. He seems to find a way to do things."
Junior Quinn Piver is representing the team as a heavyweight at 285.
"He's (Piver) a true 285-pounder," Hudiburg said. "He's one of the few guys that couldn't qualify 220 even if he wanted to lose weight. That's an advantage.
"For him to get third, that was a pleasant surprise," Hudiburg said. "We always knew he could do it, it was just a matter of him believing it."
Piver opens against Ferris' Drew Sharkley.
Henderson takes on Sam Voiglander of Mead; Anderson faces Ryley Hovde from Lewis and Clark; and Reardon grapples with Mason Ju, also of Mead.
The Blue Devils hit the mats Friday and Saturday in Moses Lake. The top three finishers in each class get a state tournament berth.
The brackets consist of quarterfinals, semifinals and a championship. Three wins nets the region's first seed to state. A loss drops the wrestlers into a losers' bracket, where they'll compete for the third seed.
Other Prep Wrestling
Mac-Hi closes out its regular season today at Baker. The Pioneers have faced sickness and injury this season and - despite winning the majority of its matches - is winless in Greater Oregon League dual meets thanks to flurries of forfeits. Mac-Hi travels to Crook County for the District Tournament Fridand and Saturday Feb. 17-18.
The Pioneers feature several standouts and state-hopefuls, including Ryan Bullock at 152, Francisco Saldana at 160 and Taylor Hodgen.
Pomeroy is taking nine wrestlers to the Kitittas Regional Tournament, which features 168 wrestlers from all of the class 1B and 2B schools in Eastern Washington.
The Pirates making the trip include Clayton King at 106, Kyle Hyer at 132, Wyatt Hyer at 138, Jacob Moore at 145, Ryan Smith at 152, Wyatt Jenkins at 160, Tory Knebel at 170, Austin Reisdorph at 195 and Mike Wymor at 220.
Pomeroy is not new to postseason success, it finished fourth last season at state, and features four returners from that trip: state champ Knebel, Reisdorph, Jenkins and Moore.
"I think we're looking pretty good," Pomeroy coach Brian Slaybaugh said. "The kids are wrestling well, so I hope we have a good outcome."
The top five finishers in each bracket move on to state.