Six Bulldogs placed and senior Casey Olesen won the 120 lb. division to lead Sandpoint wrestling at the Pacific Northwest Classic on Jan. 5.
“We’re peaking about right where we need to be at this time of year,” Sandpoint head coach Jake Stark said.
The event, which featured 17 schools from Idaho, Montana and Washington, brought out the best in the Bulldogs’ small, yet effective group that traveled to the event. Sandpoint’s 14-person roster wasn’t as deep as that of some of the other schools in the event, but the Bulldogs managed to score 90.5 points as a team. Having six wrestlers place was an added bonus for Stark, who said the Bulldogs usually only place “one or two” at that event.
The bulk of those points came from Olesen’s 120 lb. title run, which started off by picking up two tech falls before running into Mead’s Ryan Clark in the semifinals. In a way, the semifinal match was the real championship match: The back-and-forth affair was dramatic, and the competition was stiffer.
“I don’t want to say it was the championship match, but it definitely caught me off guard,” Olesen said.
Olesen and Clark traded leads in the opening period. Clark rolled Olesen with a single-leg — something that Olesen says “rarely happens” to him — which gave Olesen some pause.
“It was a reality check,” Olesen said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be a tough match. I still have to grind unless I’m going to lose this match.’ I pretty much thought I was going to lose the match at that point.”
Instead, Olesen battled back, got a little more breathing room off of a double-leg and led after the first period. Despite the hectic opening moments, Olesen kept his confidence.
“Once the first round ended and I was up 3-2, I told myself ‘I’m winning now,’” Olesen said.
As soon as Sandpoint senior re-centered himself, he was able to pull away with the victory over Clark, who hails from Washington wrestling power Mead. Because of this, Stark said Olesen’s semifinal win meant a little more.
“To be able to hang with a Mead kid and beat him should make him feel pretty good about it,” Stark said.
Naturally, Olesen didn’t let up in the championship match, which was a return to form after a semifinal match that made him fight out of his comfort zone.
“He got into some funky situations [in the semis],” Stark said. “So in the next match I told him to just wrestle to his strengths.”
The results showed. Olesen played to his strengths by staying up en route to a 3-1 win over Lake City’s Devin Sorrelle.
“[Olesen] was on in his finals match,” Stark said. “He knew he was going to take it. He was ready.”
Aside from Olesen’s first-place finish, the Bulldogs were led by a triad of sixth-place finishes by Dillan Mitton (152 lb.), Brady Nelson (145 lb.) and Tanner Dickson (113 lb.); plus Parker Coon and Malachi Fleck placing fourth and fifth in the 138 lb. division, respectively.
“Both of our [138s] Malachi Fleck and Parker Coon did solid and both of them placed, which was pretty cool,” Stark said. “And Dillan Mitton placed — it’s only his second year wrestling, so him placing at a big event like this was huge.”
Mitton suffered a first-round loss to Wentachee (WA)’s the 156 lb. division, yet rattled off three straight wins in the consolation bracket before falling to Velazquez again in the consolation semifinals. Mitton would go on to lose by tech fall in the fifth-place match to Mead’s J.T. Connors.
“It was good for him to step up and see where he could finish out the end of this year,” Stark said. “He’s right there at the crossroads of being really, really good. So he’s gotta find that groove. When he finds it down the stretch, then he could be dangerous.”
With the season ramping up, the Bulldogs have a busy week ahead of them: Sandpoint will travel to Kellogg on Wednesday, then finish the week at the River City Duals, which features 34 schools from three different states.
“We’re going into a stretch of the season with two tough tournaments — the River City Duals and the North Idaho Rumble,” Stark said. “These guys are ready for these tournaments now because they paid their dues up to this point in the season. They should be confident.”