When returning state champions and finalists can be seeded no higher than fifth in their weight classes at an invitational wrestling tournament, you know which tournament it is.
The 38th annual Tri-State wrestling tournament, Friday and Saturday at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, separates the men from – well – the men.
No fewer than eight state champs or runners-up are fifth seeded in their respective weight brackets, each with upward of 40 competitors, when the tournament opens in cozy Christianson Gym at 10 a.m. Friday. All-session passes are $20, or $10 each per three sessions.
Quarterfinals begin at 7 p.m., said NIC wrestling coach and tourney director Pat Whitcomb, with semifinals Saturday at noon and finals at 5 p.m.
“It’s the cream of the crop,” Whitcomb said of the prestigious event. “I don’t know if it’s because you get away from it a year, but it slaps you in the face how tough things are going to be.”
Defending team champion Lake Stevens returns as do most of the schools from last year’s tourney, which because of record snowfall, had 17 fewer than the 51 that brought wrestlers in 2007. Whitcomb expects those numbers to climb back this weekend.
He’s been a part of it for more than 20 years, first working the tourney as a Cardinals wrestler, then participating as a high school coach, NIC assistant and, for the past 13 years, as head coach.
“There’s a mystique,” he said. “They all want to come out with a Tri-State champion.”
Roughly 25 top-four finishers – 10 of them current or former meet champions – are in the field.
Two are at 112 pounds – top seeds Josh Heinzer from Lake Stevens and Garrett Belgarde from Sandpoint, who both wound up state titlists as well. Belgarde has moved up a weight. That’s also a class with a state champ as fifth seed, Republic’s Kyle Kirkendall.
Lakeside’s Josh Lauderdale, a Tri-State defending champion, finds himself in the same weight class (135) as two-time state champion and a previous Tri-State winner Braden Mowry from Coeur d’Alene.
Republic’s Scotty Bacon, up to 145 this year, will attempt to defend as will Lakeland’s Brandon Richardson, now at 152. University 160-pound Tri-State champion Jacob Mason is in a class that includes Mead sophomore state champion Jordan Rogers and Lake Stevens’ Jacob Anderson, both third a year ago.
Defending 285-pound Shawn Burton returns as top seed.
Whitcomb rated Lake Stevens, Hermiston, U-Hi, Coeur d’Alene and Orting, with former Tri-State and two-time state champ Tyler Meeks at 189, among those with the best chance at a team title. Flathead was second last year and Deer Park third.
“It’s going to be fun,” Whitcomb said. “Not one team jumps out and runs away with it.”
That’s how tough the Tri-State tournament is.