Sequim's wrestlers couldn't have looked less like a state tourney-quality team than at last season's Battle for the Axe, dropping matches to Forks, Port Angeles and to a group of junior varsity grapplers.
This season? Try a perfect 4-0 mark, including wins against North Mason, Port Townsend and another group of surprisingly strong JV all-stars, capped by a win against Port Angeles, their biggest rivals.
A 42-25 win in the championship round against the host Port Angeles squad gave Sequim's Wolves their first Battle for the Axe tournament Saturday, a fine precursor to the first of three postseason tourneys slated for the next three weekends.
"Everyone's where we need to be," said a jovial Len Borchers, the Sequim coach who was an assistant at Port Angeles in recent years.
But the second-year Sequim leader saw his grapplers look like a team to be reckoned with from Saturday's start to finish, dominating Port Townsend 54-15, the all-star JV team 59-23 and a shorthanded North Mason team 53-18, all without wrestlers at 119-, 152- and 215-pound weight classes.
In the other four-team pool, Port Angeles had easy matches versus Kingston and Mount Si, then edged defending "Battle" champ Forks, 46-36.
That set up the final dual match, and Sequim - thanks to pins from Austin Middleton (112 pounds), Taylor Gowdy (125) and Joe Hutchison (135) and an injury default win from Nick Grinnell - took a 30-0 lead out of the gate.
Port Angeles' Adam Raemer and Sam Olsen got P.A. close with wins, but couldn't get much-needed pin points. By the time the Roughriders got six forfeit points at 152 pounds, Sequim's lead was still 30-13.
In a tough, back-and-forth match at 160 pounds, Sequim's Alex O'Donnell overcame a three-point, first-round deficit for a stirring 9-8 victory. It gave Sequim a 33-13 lead and effectively locked up the match.
"It's actually kind of liberating (since) we were dead last," O'Donnell said, referring to last season's performance. "The seniors got real tight. To take this tournament together, it's pretty cool."
David Copeland followed O'Donnell's win with a pin of Joe Pizzuto. The match saw five lead changes before Copeland got the pin with 23 seconds left in the third round.
Ethan Hinton (189 pounds) continued his strong 2008-2009 season with a 10-5 victory against Dalton Williamson.
All that was left for the afternoon's final match was a long-awaited match between Sequim's Thomas Gallagher and 3A No. 1-ranked John Camp, but Camp ended any mystery just 27 seconds into the match with a pin, his fourth of the day.
"John's just had more experience; he's been tested more," Borchers said.
Camp won the "Battle for the Axe" best wrestler award.
Sequim wrestlers have more than awards on the brain. They're targeting a sub-regional and regional tourneys that can get them a ticket to MatClassic, Washington state's prep wrestling championships.
O'Donnell, for one, is expecting to make that trip.
"Today just confirms it," he said.
Up next for the Wolves is a sub-regional tournament set for Feb. 7 at Klahowya Secondary School in Silverdale.
The top four placers from the sub-regional tourney advance to the regional tourney, slated for Feb. 14 at Washington High School in Tacoma. The top three placers from the regional tourney advance to the MatClassic state tournament in Tacoma, Feb. 20-21.
Wolves pick up
easy win vs. NK
With Copeland, Sequim's 171-pounder, nursing an injury, Borchers figured he could spare the senior from wrestling Wednesday night in Poulsbo.
By the time the match got to Copeland's weight class, Sequim already had a 27-0 lead on North Kitsap's Vikings, more points than they would need against a young and out-matched Olympic League foe.
Sequim picked up five pins on their way to a 52-16 victory, giving the Wolves a 4-4 mark after their last dual match of the 2008-2009 season.
"Most of our guys looked really sharp at North Kitsap even though we've been slowed a bit by illness," Borchers said.
Sequim opened with three consecutive pins from seniors. Grinnell (130 pounds) pinned Viking Jakob Haws in the second round, followed by Hutchison's first-round pin of Michael Coulter at 135 pounds, a match that lasted just 83 seconds.
Anthony Drabek continued his solid senior season with a second-round pin of NK's John Murphy.
After Sequim freshman Kenny Henning picked up a forfeit at 145 pounds, O'Donnell earned a tough 7-3 victory against Viking Justin Swansboro at 152 pounds.
Hinton, ranked sixth in the state, earned a pin at 189 pounds and Clay Charlie, Sequim's 215-pounder, earned his first varsity win by pinning North Kitsap's Jaret House in just 58 seconds.
At 112 pounds, Sequim's Middleton was battling both an NK wrestler and an illness Wednesday but still managed a win. He built a lead and held on for a 10-7 win against Matt Moriarty at 112 pounds.
Gowdy capped the night with a 14-2 against Don Stamaris, a Viking who placed a strong fifth at Sequim's Rainshadow tourney earlier this season.
In Sequim's only loss on the mat, Wolf Dalton Ackley rebounded from a 10-0 deficit for a reversal and tried for a pin but eventually lost to Daniel Jewett, 13-2.
"(I'm) very encouraged to see him start putting things together," Borchers said of Ackley.
Gallagher," Sequim's heavyweight, picked up a win by forfeit.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.