TACOMA – Jake Howerton experienced the best of two worlds on Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
The Mt. Spokane High School senior defended his state championship in the 152-pound division at Mat Classic XXX and helped his team to its first 3A team championship, dethroning Bonney Lake.
Howerton scored early, survived a second-round stalling point and held off Kamiakan’s Slone Halo 3-2 after winning his morning semifinal match over by pin over Steven Saltz of Southridge.
“That was a tactical match. I didn’t know what he had to give,” Howerton said. “I saw (Halo) at Dream Duals, but my backup wrestled him and I did not.”
Howerton and Mt. Spokane coach Travis Hughes said the challenge posed by any individual opponent was eclipsed by the burden of being a returning state champion.
“There’s a lot of pressure that second time around,” Hughes said. “You’ve already won it. You feel like you can only do worse. He had to battle some of that.”
“You’re protecting something,” Howerton said. “That’s what I was thinking of the whole time that I was wrestling, that I had something to protect.”
The Wildcats got four wrestlers into the finals, but beyond Howerton, only Blake Haney, the top-ranked 3A wrestler at 126 pounds, reached the top step of the podium. Haney defeated Bonney Lake’s Evan Tracy 7-2.
Jarrett Sharp at 113, outpointed by Bonney Lake’s top-ranked Brenden Chaowanapibool, and Trayven King, beaten by Yelm’s top-ranked Derrick Platt at 182 claimed runner-up honors.
The Wildcats amassed 179 points as a team, ahead of runner-up Bonney Lake’s 165.5.
“Every kid did great. It was a whole team effort. Everybody scored points,” Hughes said.
For Howerton, the team title was icing on the cake after his back-to-back individual victories.
“It feels great,” he said. “I’m a senior it’s a great way to end. It means the world to me.”
North Central, seventh as a team with 78 points, had two wrestlers reach the 3A finals, but Clayton Gilliam at 132 and Gavin Gies at 138 lost decisions. Gilliam fell to Kamiakan’s Austin Almaguer 6-1 after pinning Zander Coakley of Lakes in his earlier semifinal. Gies was edged 4-2 by Christian Freund of Kelso.
In the 4A meet, Mead junior Chase Tebbets became a two-time state champ with a 5-3 victory over Chiawana’s Robby Vaughn. The match was a tight one, with Tebbets going ahead for good on a second-round escape.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now. It feels great to get that second title under my belt, getting ready for next year,” Tebbets said. “We’ve wrestled a lot. It’s always a close match. I competed really well, he competed really well, but I stayed in really good position and that was it.”
The Panthers, ranked sixth by Washington Wrestling Report coming into the Mat Classic, finished second as a team, scoring 106.5 points to finish well behind champion South Kitsap and just ahead of typically-strong Lake Stevens and Tahoma.
“It’s pretty tough to be disappointed with second place,” Mead coach Phil McLean said. “The kids wrestled gritty and tough all weekend. You win some, you lose some, but they competed really hard.”
Mead had a few disappointments at regionals, resulting in a small squad for state than anticipated.
“We’re pretty excited. We were ranked low, we weren’t getting a lot of respect,” Tebbets said.
“I didn’t know if we had enough firepower after not getting some guys through regionals,” McLean said. “So second’s pretty impressive. We had seven placers. Obviously, having three finalists helped our score.”