The first 13 matches of the night did little to separate the Del Norte and Fortuna wrestling teams during their championship dual on Tuesday in Thunen Gym in the regular season finale.
Although the Huskies held a slim two-point advantage, the final match of the night at 162 pounds was a true winner-take-all affair because the winning wrestler in a dual earns their team a minimum of three points.
Knowing his team needed the win to claim its first Humboldt-Del Norte dual championship in several years, junior Justin Goudelock was determined as he stepped onto the mat to take on Fortuna’s Napolean Lopez.
“He was ready to wrestle,” said Del Norte head coach Clinton Schaad. “I just told him to go out there, relax and wrestle. ‘You don’t have to worry about a pin, you don’t have to worry about a technical fall, just go out and wrestle and do your best. Wrestle smart and wrestle to win — if you win than we win.’ He was put in a hard spot, it’s like shooting the free throw at the end of the game, but there is a lot of action along the way so it wasn’t all on him.”
Despite the encouraging words from his head coach, Goudelock said he definitely felt the magnitude of the moment, leading up to what he said was the most pressure-packed match so far in his high school career.
“I was nervous. I knew that I had to win,” Goudelock recalled. “This is the first year that we have been undefeated (in duals) in a while, so I wanted to make sure that we went undefeated all the way through.”
It wasn’t just Goudelock feeling the nerves leading up to the last match of the dual. Schaad said he spent most of the night sitting in his chair and trying to keep the team calm, but was pacing for much of the 160-pound match. Goudelock’s teammates felt the pressure as well, though senior captain Ta-Tes Boulby said he had faith that the junior would deliver.
“That match was a little nerve-wracking, but I knew that Justin had it in the bag,” Boulby said. “I wasn’t too worried.”
Goudelock fell behind in the match right off the bat, as Lopez was able to score a takedown a few seconds into the first period. Goudelock was able to escape quickly, however, and managed a couple takedowns of his own to finish the period with a 5-3 lead. In the second period Lopez jumped into the lead, taking Goudelock down and straight to his back to take an 8-5 lead less than 30 seconds into the period. Lopez eventually let Goudelock up with about a minute left and Goudelock tied the score at 8-8 with another takedown, but a reversal at the buzzer by Lopez put him ahead 10-8 heading into the final two minutes.
In the third period, Goudelock was able to take command of the match. Just 15 seconds into the final period Goudelock took Lopez down and put him straight onto his back for a quick five-point swing and a 14-10 lead. Goudelock was able to flip Lopez onto his back again for two more points with 30 seconds remaining and held on for the 16-11 victory.
“He was tough. I knew going in that he had a good double-leg, so I knew that I had to stay close to him so he couldn’t shoot. I think in the end I just outbattled him because we are in better shape than them,” Goudelock said. “I just knew that I couldn’t let him take me down at the end like that. He was tough on top and I was having trouble getting away from him. So I knew if he got me down with that much time left he would try to just ride me out.”
Goudelock’s win edged Del Norte ahead of Fortuna for a 36-35 victory and an HDN League dual championship.
“It was a close dual and we knew it was going to be a close dual,” Schaad said. “I didn’t know it was going to come down to the last match of the night. Even in that match we went from winning the match to losing the match — we were on our back, to fighting off our back, to throwing him on his back. It was a really good dual and about as close as you can get. We are really excited to come out of it with a win and to be undefeated in league duals. It was closer than we would like, but we got the win. If you are a Del Norte Warrior fan and you didn’t find that exciting than I don’t know what else to do. That was an exciting close match.”
Although Goudelock’s match was easily the most dramatic — coming at the end of the night with the dual and a league championship on the line — every single match ended up playing a pivotal role in the eventual outcome.
“We were able to wrestle hard, wrestle smart, and get the win,” Schaad said. “Each match counted.”
The match kicked off at 172 pounds and started with three pins. Fortuna was able to win by fall in the 172 and the 197 pound matches, but Boulby managed a pin for the Warriors in the 184 pound match in 2:56.
Del Norte tied the match up at 18-18 after Brenden Schrader (220 pounds) and Chaz Harrison (108) both won by forfeit, sandwiched around Fortuna’s Jacob Bernstein winning the heavyweight match by forfeit.
Cruz Cerros gave Del Norte its first lead of the night, scoring a late pin in 5:21, in the 115 pound match. Blake Allen then accepted a forfeit for the Warriors, pushing Del Norte to a 30-18 lead.
Fortuna fought its way back into the match with a win by major decision in the 128-pound match, followed by a pin at 134 to narrow Del Norte’s lead to just 30-28.
Del Norte’s Skyler Moore stopped the slide in the 138 pound match in one of the closest matches of the night. Moore fought neck and neck with Fortuna’s Andrew Hansen and the two were tied at 5-5 after three periods. The match looked like it was headed to a second overtime period until Moore was able to get a takedown with just five seconds left in the extra period for a 7-5 overtime win and a 33-28 Del Norte lead.
The 142 pound match was nearly as close, but Fortuna’s Joey Pontes was able to fight off Wyatt Schneck for a 9-7 win that went down to the final buzzer.
Fortuna was able to recapture the lead in the 154 pound match with one of the Huskies’ top wrestlers, Levi Niberg, taking on Del Norte’s Connor Long. Niberg was able to earn a win by major decision with a final score of 11-3, but Schaad said he was impressed with Long’s match, despite the loss.
“We had some really good matches out there, and we had matches that we didn’t win that we wrestled really well in,” Schaad said. “Connor Long wrestled in the second-to last match against a really high-caliber wrestler from Fortuna. It was big for him to do as well as he did and not get pinned or get tech falled, to keep us within range of winning. If he hadn’t wrestled as well as he did, (Fortuna) could have gotten an extra point. We would be all tied up and we would be going back to the book (to determine tiebreakers).”
Although Schaad was encouraged by how some of his wrestlers looked in losses on Tuesday, he also said there were a few wins in which he felt the Warriors got away with some mistakes.
“We had some matches that we won, but we were not pleased with how we won. We felt that we made some mistakes that could have made it a bigger spread at the end,” Schaad said. “There were a couple of those matches that we were winning, and we were in the dominant position but we got rolled through and pinned. I know those kids are just kicking themselves and they are down in the dumps, I was really glad that we were able to win the dual. It was like, ‘Alright, the team still won, so we can just learn from our mistakes and move on.’”
Though not a perfect night, the Warriors were glad to finally be back on top of the league standings after the dual season.
“It’s exciting for the kids and exciting for me because we have been so close in the past. It seems like we have been close every year, but this is the first time we have won it in, I think six years,” Schaad said. “It just means that we are doing something right. The kids are ecstatic, but come tomorrow we will come to practice, run our miles and do our drills. No rest for the weary.”
Del Norte also wrestled St. Barnard’s in a short dual prior to taking on Fortuna. The Crusaders’ were not able to win the dual, due to the team bringing just two wrestlers, and the Warriors picked up an easy 72-6 victory over the Crusaders.
Allen picked up a pin in 5:25 against St. Bernard’s in the 128 pound match. It was the first match in a couple weeks for the Warriors’ sophomore, who was injured during the Crater Classic in Oregon on Jan. 27.
With the wins, Del Norte will officially be the top-seeded team from the HDNL at the North Coast Section Duals, scheduled to take place on Saturday at El Molino High School. Fortuna will be the second team from the HDN at the duals, with their only dual loss in the league coming on Tuesday.
“We want to go down and represent Del Norte High School,” Schaad said. “We have a goal of bringing home a banner — that is our ultimate goal — but along the way I want to see the kids wrestle well. I want to see improvement in matches, I want to see good sportsmanship, and I want to see some wins. We have already achieved something that we haven’t done in a long time. We are happy with that, but we aren’t satisfied. So we are going to move on to the next level and see how we do down there.”
Banners are awarded to the top three teams in the tournament. Del Norte has never earned a NCS dual meet banner, though the Warriors have finished in fourth place at the tournament several times.