The annual Gut Check wrestling tournament was an international affair, but one household shone brightly in the finals.
Bethel High School’s brother act, Phillip and Dante Springsteen, won two of the final three championship matches contested in decisive fashion to help the Braves to an eighth place finish.
With a select team from Japan easily winning the team title with 228 points and a similar team from Canada entered, South Sound teams faced an exceptional level of competition. Orting finished third with 147 points and Bonney Lake was seventh with 106.5, a half point ahead of Bethel.
Phillip Springsteen executed his plan to perfection to up his season record to 19-2 with a 3-0 shutout over Kaleb Hafner of Liberty-Spangle at 165 pounds.
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“I wanted to make sure I got a takedown out of the neutral start and an escape from the down position and I did it,” Springsteen said.
It took him only 25 seconds to get the first round takedown, but took all minus the final seconds of the second round to escape Hafner after electing to start in the down position.
Springsteen, who is headed to the University of Mary, North Dakota, after graduation, then rode out the third without allowing Hafner to escape.
“He’s been working really hard,” said Bethel coach Mario Ragazzo. “The Liberty kid (Hafner) is very tough.”
After Ben Gore turned in the second of two individual titles for Orting by jumping out to a 5-2 lead in the first round and holding on for an action-packed 11-7 triumph over Avery Meyer of Bonney Lake at 145, it was Dante Springsteen’s turn.
The younger Springsteen, a junior, shot out to a 4-1 lead in the first round at 152 over Union’s Tommy Strassenberg, who not only came into the match undefeated at 15-0, but who had knocked Dante out of the Gut Check tournament last season.
Strassenberg pared the margin to 4-3 with 31 seconds to go in the second round, but was charged with a penalty point just four seconds into the third, allowing Springsteen to escape 50 seconds later to lose, 6-3.
“I’m proud of Dante,” Ragazzo, now in his sixth year coaching the Braves, said. “He’s been dealing with a lot of injuries, but he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever had in the room.”
Springsteen, who upped his season record to 19-1, said “it felt great” to hand Strassenberg his first loss and avenge last season’s early exit from the tournament.
Orting’s Hunter Mullins got the other individual championship by a South Sound wrestler, pinning Tumwater’s Cy Hicks at 285.
Puyallup’s Josh Franich reached the finals at 132, but had the unenviable task of facing Taishi Narikuni, who won 6-0 to become one of four Japanese wrestlers to win an individual title. Two more finished second despite an adjustment to the American folkstyle (collegiate) wrestling from the freestyle they are familiar with internationally.
Franich appreciated the chance to broaden his wrestling experiences.
“He pushed me pretty hard and tried some freestyle moves,” he said. “But they were pretty good at folkstyle.”
The Japanese wrestlers were a hit off the mat as well, trading singlets for American high school T-shirts and sweatshirts.