WALLA WALLA — After finishing the regular season with an 0-5 Mid-Columbia Conference dual-meet record, Wa-Hi’s wrestling team is ready to hit the reset button as they host the MCC 4A District Tournament Saturday.
The Blue Devils struggled with injuries, illness, a lack of depth in the lower weight classes and broke in a new coach this season, but first-year coach Dallas Jones said the Blue Devils are getting healthy at the right time and may upset the apple cart this weekend.
“I think some of (the Wa-Hi wrestlers) are going to surprise people this weekend,” Jones said. “We have some kids that are under-ranked and are going to be motivated by that a little bit.
“It’s all about finishing strong,” Jones said. “It’s all about where you finish, not where you start.”
Seniors Logan Reardon, Quinn Piver and Zane Henderson look to have the easiest paths to qualifying for regionals in Spokane.
The meet will be a double-elimination affair with eight-man brackets. The top two placers advance to the East Regional at Spokane’s Central Valley High School on Feb. 9.
Because only the top two finishers advance, the winner of the consolation bracket and loser of the championship match will face off to determine a true second seed.
Preliminary brackets are available to the public at the webside jcrawford.net; however, they are subject to changes after a seeding meeting Saturday morning.
Of all Wa-Hi wrestlers, Reardon, ranked No. 8 by the Washington Wrestling Report website at 220 pounds, has the easiest path to regionals.
He has a bye into the second round, where he faces the winner of a match between two freshman.
Should Reardon advance there, he will likely face Chiawana’s Abzael Loeza, a junior ranked No. 10 by the Report, in the championship match.
Loeza pinned Wa-Hi’s Piver at the Bob Mars Invitational in December while wrestling at 285.
All of the other wrestlers in Reardon’s bracket are freshman. Barring a huge upset, Reardon should be a lock to qualify to regionals.
Reardon is 30-2 on the season, but hasn’t garnered much state-wide attention, Jones said.
“He’s kind of been flying under the radar this year a little bit, which is an advantage, I think,” Jones said. “We all know who he is, but on the other side of the state not so much.”
Piver will also have a bye into the second match at 285, where he will face freshman Antonio Cruz of Chiawana.
Should he advance to the championship round, he will likely face Chaiwana’s Martin Villanueva, No. 13 in the state rankings, whom Piver pinned in 3:06 at the Best of the West tournament in mid-December.
Henderson wrestled at 182 during the regular season and is listed as such in the advance bracket, but Jones said Henderson will be dropping down to 170 for the postseason.
“He’s not a big 182-pounder, so it’s not a big deal for him to drop down,” Jones said.
If the remainder of the 170 bracket remains unchanged, Henderson will be one of only two seniors at that weight and should have a good shot of qualifying.
But Jones doesn’t think Wa-Hi is a three-pony show.
He is hopeful that wrestlers like Jose Albarran (113), Zach Anderson (152), Noe Gonzales (120) and Wil Babbit (126) will be able to make some noise.
“Those are guys that can do some serious wrestling,” Jones said. “They can qualify for state.”
Among that quartet, Babbit is the highest seed at No. 2.
If he advances to the championship round, he will likely face off with Pasco’s Brandon Gonzales, who was ranked as the eighth-best 132-pounder in the state before dropping down to 126 for the postseason.
Regardless of the Blue Devils’ performance at districts, Jones remains optimistic for the years ahead.
“We don’t have a lot of juniors, but the ones we do are really tough,” Jones said. “We’ve got a good group of sophomores and the freshmen are great, they are really enthusiastic.”
This season has been a learning experience, both for Jones, who coached at Pioneer Middle School for five years before moving up to Wa-Hi, and for the Blue Devils, who have had to adjust to the new coach’s style.
That transition has been helped along by an 11-strong senior class.
“All of our seniors, for the most part this year, have helped step up at various times and take up that leadership role,” Jones said. “I tell my seniors that all my wrestlers have to be able to look up to them and respect them. They’re an enjoyable group of kids to be around.
But he isn’t quite ready to do a postmortem on Wa-Hi’s season just yet.
“I’m looking forward to this weekend,” Jones said. “I think the kids are going to wrestle well and start achieving some goals.”