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The Tri-State tournament challenges wrestlers at the highest level.

Tougher than state: Tri-State wrestling tournament attracts best of Northwest

The Tri-State wrestling tournament, held annually at North Idaho College, started Friday with nearly 600 wrestlers over 15 weight classifications. On Saturday, they whittled that number down to one in each weight as champion.

No wonder most coaches think this tournament is the toughest their athletes will participate in this season – including any state tourney.

“It’s the best kids from around the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana. It’s a tough tournament,” said Colville coach Randy Cloke, who brought nine wrestlers to the meet.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of it all: It’s open qualification, so whether a wrestler participates at a school of 2,000 students or 20, he goes into the same pool.

Man-to-man. Survival of the fittest.

“It’s like the gladiator arena,” Mead coach Phil McLean said. … “You’ve got some teams that bring one kid because he’s legitimately tough. So it’s really cool for the sport of wrestling. It’s the highest level of competition we’re going to see all season long.”

“Wrestling is a great equalizer,” Cloke said. “You come out here, one-on-one, weight class to weight class, pound-for-pound. It’s a battle.”

“This is the highlight of our season besides the state tournament,” said Freeman coach Chad Ripke, whose team entered 11 wrestlers in the tournament.

“We love coming here and competing and getting great matches, win or lose,” Ripke added. “It’s just a great atmosphere, great tournament.

“This is tougher than a state tournament. You have a good performance here, it goes a long way. You put a Tri-State placing on your resume, it says you’re pretty damn tough, too.”

More than one coach called the two-day tournament a “meat grinder.”

“Probably the biggest number of participants (this year) we’ve had at the Tri-State, probably,” veteran coach Don Owen of University said. “Really tough competition. Really good overall teams. The best teams around, for sure. Wall-to-wall people, wall-to-wall wrestling.”

Owen’s brother, Tim, coaches Ferris.

“In most cases, it’s going to be more difficult than the state tournament in every weight,” Tim said. “You’ve got every classification and four states’ best wrestlers.”

Ripke echoed just how demanding the tourney can be.

“We’ve got a kid here that’s a two-time state placer and still hasn’t placed here,” he said. “A second and third state finish.”

Not only is the competition tough, but the schedule might be the toughest part of all.

“You’ve got to stay healthy and be ready for every match,” Cloke said. “The long breaks between, these kids go sit in the stands for five, six hours (between matches). That first day some of those kids started at 10 a.m. and went to 7 p.m. and had one match.

“And the intensity continues to pick up as the tournament goes.”

“You can’t really measure how good somebody is until they wrestle someone else really good,” Don Owen said. “That’s the secret, I think.

“Finding competition at your level, to measure yourself against to get ready for the state tournament or wherever, you need to wrestle the best.”