‘Leaving on a high note’: Vashon wrestlers place 11th at state tourney

“It was all thanks to our coaches who believed in us and pushed us to outwork our opponents.”

By Doug Langworthy

For The Beachcomber

The Vashon Island High School Pirates boys varsity wrestling team had a strong showing in last weekend’s Mat Classic XXXII 1A state championship wrestling tournament at the Tacoma Dome, placing 11th of 45 as a team, with 65 team points, and placing three individual wrestlers in the top three of their weight class.

Nisqually League rivals Klahowya finished in 12th place, 14.5 points behind the Pirates. Granger High School took the team title with 178 points overall.

VHS junior Jordan Rutschow took third place in the 160-pound weight class; junior Ryan Nelson finished second in the 170-pound weight class; and senior Richard Rivas-Gutierrez also finished as the runner-up in his weight class, 220 pounds.

Coach Anders Blomgren discussed his thoughts and the team’s outlook.

“I feel like we’re really leaving on a high note,” he said. “We’re in 11th place (as a team), we’re only graduating one senior, and I feel like we’re on the rise and we learned a ton.”

Rivas-Gutierrez had a strong start in Friday’s tournament action, winning his first two matches by pin. His first win came against sophomore Miles Bacon of LaCenter at the 34-second mark of the first round before facing freshman Jermaine Watkins-Clark, of Omak, beating him 23 seconds into the second round.

In semifinal action on Saturday morning, Rivas-Gutierrez went up against junior Robert Marti of Tenino in a match that went the full time. The match was tied 0-0 at the end of the first round. Rivas-Gutierrez scored the first points of the match 10 seconds into the second round with a takedown, and went on to take a 7-2 lead into the third and final round, where he was able to withstand a late surge by Marti and hang on for a 7-6 win by decision. The championship match saw Rivas-Gutierrez pinned by defending state champion sophomore Gage Cook of Granger with 40 seconds to go in the first round.

Rivas-Gutierrez attributed his success to his Pirate coaches.

“It was all thanks to our coaches who believed in us and pushed us to outwork our opponents,” he said.

Ryan Nelson also had a strong start in Friday’s tournament action. He won his first match by pin at the one minute and 36 second mark of the first round against senior Agustin Arreguin of Montesano, and by decision, 11-9, over junior Brent Keith, of Medical Lake. In the semifinal match against sophomore Hayden Queen, of Forks, Nelson held a 2-0 lead after the first round and took a 5-2 lead into the third, hanging on for a 5-4 win by decision to send him into the championship match.

In the final, Nelson went up against junior Ethan Davis, who won the state championship as a freshman two years ago in the 132-pound weight class. Davis was able to stay on top of Nelson throughout the match, earning two points in each of the three rounds, keeping Nelson from mounting any offense, eventually winning 6-0 by decision.

Nelson reflected on his accomplishment and the team’s outlook for next year.

“I thought the first half of the season, I wasn’t looking so good, but towards the end I was feeling good about myself and I’m very happy where I ended up,” he said. “We have one more year (before graduation) to get top three as a team, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Rutschow had a longer path to his final match. He won his first match on Friday against senior AJ Stewart of Kiona Benton by decision, 14-4. From there Rutschow ran into some trouble, losing to junior Cole Tenny of Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) by decision, 11-2. The loss put Rutschow into the consolation bracket, where he went on to win his next three matches, two by pin and one by decision, 10-0. That setup a rematch against Tenny for third place overall.

In the third-place match, neither wrestler was able to score a point in both the first and second rounds, sending it to the third and decisive round tied at 0-0. Rutschow went down temporarily with a leg injury in the third round but was able to come back, scoring the first point of the match with an escape with 20 seconds remaining. He then scored a quick takedown for two more points, winning the match 3-0.

Rutschow talked about coming back to win against Tenny a day after losing to him.

“That felt amazing, I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “I studied what I did wrong previously (in the first match against Tenny), I neutralized what I thought was going to happen, and he came at me exactly how I thought, and I was able to pull through this time.”

Blomgren talked about Rutschow coming back to win the rematch with Tenny.

“Jordan was a different wrestler today … back to being the Jordan that we know,” Blomgren said. “He said as soon as he lost (to Tenny), ‘when can I meet that Lakeside guy again?’ and he made some great tactical changes.”

In addition to Rivas-Gutierrez, Nelson and Rutschow, the Pirates had six other wrestlers representing VHS in the tournament. Freshman Ben Godwin competed in the 106-pound weight class; sophomores Sean Ryland and George Murphy competed in the 120 and 126-pound weight classes, respectively; juniors Ethan McIntyre, Alec Macomber-Straight, and Finnegan McClure competed in the 120, 132, and 170-pound weight classes, respectively.