The annual Battle at the Border wrestling tournament held in Thunen Gym on Saturday was more sparse than usual. Due to snowstorms inland, many teams canceled their trips to Del Norte.
Six schools attended despite the weather, including all five Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 schools. Gold Beach was the only representative from Oregon that made it.
"It was disappointing that a lot of the Rogue Valley schools had to back out due to the snow and weather; they would have added to the tournament," said Del Norte head coach Aaron Schaad. "But it was also a blessing in disguise because the caliber of kids that we wrestled against was good for a young team."
Ten Warriors wrestled their first high school match Saturday. Del Norte finished third overall with 157 points. The junior varsity squad scored 49 points, tying with Fortuna for the top JV team.
In varsity competition, McKinleyville finished first with 186.5 points and Eureka edged out the Warriors for second with 159.
"I was pleased," Schaad said. "We ... were only two points out of second place from Eureka. Considering our lack of experience, I think we competed well. You can coach technique, get into shape and do all of that stuff, but the kids displayed that they wanted to wrestle. They got out there and tried the techniques that we have been working on in the room and I think it showed. They had a competitor's spirit and wrestled hard throughout the whole match, win or lose."
Senior Hawk Mattz was the Warriors' only champion. Mattz picked up a pair of pins, including a pin of McKinleyville's Logan Bailey early in the second period of the final.
"He is really aggressive," Shaad said. "He looked a little bit rusty, but he was able to shoot guys down and scramble. He was dominant in his weight class. I kind of expected that when I looked at the bracket, and he performed."
Mattz also pinned Del Norte's Blaine Sutton in the 170-pound semifinals. Sutton ended up finishing third overall, ending with a 12-6 decision over another teammate - Hunter Mattz, Hawk's brother.
In all, the Warriors had four wrestlers, including Hawk Mattz, in the finals. Hawk's sister, Nicole Mattz, took second place at 113, Robin Pearce finished second in the 160-pound bracket and Eric Turner took second at 182.
Turner's opponent in the finals was Derek Carl of Gold Coast.
"Eric Turner wrestled a really tough kid from Gold Beach, which was nice," Shaad said. "It was a good experience to wrestle up-tempo where he wants to be. I'm sure he would have wanted to wrestle a little bit better, but he will close the gap on guys like that. It was good to get that kind of competition level right off the bat."
Del Norte was also able to grab a handful of third-place finishes. In addition to Sutton, Puente finished third at 285 pounds. Freshmen Willie Gensaw and Colson Turner also took third place at 103 and 138 pounds, respectively. That was the highest finish of any of the Warrior newcomers.
While Schaad expects improvement out of all of his wrestlers throughout the season, he is especially excited to see how the newcomers progress.
"We have a really young lineup," Shaad said. "This was basically a league preview with Gold Beach added in, and we were able to compete at that level. I think that as these kids get more experience wrestling in high school, we are going to close that gap."
The biggest setback of the day for Del Norte was a neck injury to Landon McAlexander in the consolation semifinals of the 182-pound bracket. McAlexander went to the hospital for the injury and is expected to make a full recovery.
"I called the hospital several times throughout the day, and they said he will be fine after his neck heals up a little bit," Schaad said. "I'm sure he will be sore."
Though McAlexander will mostly likely need to sit out for a few weeks, Schaad doesn't believe the injury will be season-ending.
With one tournament under its belt, Del Norte now turns its attention to preparing for the McKinleyville tournament on Saturday. The Warriors will stick with a familiar practice regimen.
"At this point, I teach and re-teach," Schaad said. "Their fundamentals are there, but they are still sloppy. Even the returners are still rusty. Wrestling is such a repetitive thing, you have to get your timing right and be able to transition from one thing to
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org.