ELLENSBURG - Considering Sunnyside was two wrestlers shy of having a full 14-man roster, the Grizzlies walked away from last Saturday's Westberg Invitational with few regrets.
Behind individual titlists Nathan Gonzalez and Isaac Guerrero, Sunnyside departed the Ellensburg High School gymnasium with second-place honors from the 16-team field. The host Ellensburg Bulldogs claimed top team honors with an invite-best 170 points.
Sunnyside's 154-point total left the Grizzlies wondering what might have been had they fielded a full team. But with one grappler excused for a family funeral and another who inexplicably failed to show for Saturday morning's bus ride to Ellensburg, the Sunnyside squad will never know if it could have secured its third tourney championship of the season.
"Finishing just 16 points back of Ellensburg, you've got to think that we could have really closed the gap on them if we had taken 14 kids up there," said SHS Coach George Paulus.
Instead of belaboring the point, though, Paulus chooses instead to focus on the fact that nine of the 12 wrestlers who did make the trek to Ellensburg returned with "Top 5" finishes in their respective weight classes.
Paulus, too, said he came away from the invite impressed with how his Grizzlies refused to hang their heads after absorbing a loss.
"Our kids battled back well after getting beat.
"That's what we're stressing right now.
"Sometimes it's easy after you take a loss to hang your head and give up...to not give it everything you've got in your next match. But we're trying to get across to the kids that it's about team, not just about yourself, that you have to keep battling.
"This weekend, our kids did a good job of that," Paulus said.
Two Grizzlies who didn't have to worry about regrouping after absorbing a loss turned out to be Gonzalez and Guerrero.
Wrestling at 126 lbs., Gonzalez dispatched his first three opponents to advance to the finals, where he put his finishing stamp on Ellensburg's Dillon Dompier. Gonzalez, scoring a takedown and near fall in the opening period, went on to score a 10-1 major decision over the highly regarded Bulldog.
Guerrero, wrestling at 138 lbs., like Gonzalez went 4-0 on the day to secure an individual title for Sunnyside. Enroute to advancing to the championship round, Guerrero defeated an Ellensburg athlete who placed third at the 2A State tourney last season. In the finals, Guerrero was gift-wrapped the 138-lb. championship when the coach from Tacoma's Todd Beamer High School elected not to send to the mat his wrestler, who is currently ranked fourth in the state in the 4A classification. Paulus said the Todd Beamer team still has a couple of league matches remaining and that the wrestler Guerrero should have faced in the finals is nearing the single-season 33-match limit the WIAA has established for high school wrestlers.
Five Grizzlies, four of whom won their first two bouts before getting upended in the semi-finals, notched third-place finishes at the invite.
The four who advanced to the semi-finals and got beaten, but rebounded with victories in the consolation finals included Homer Romero at 106 lbs., Jesse Barajas at 113 lbs., Santos Guerrero at 120 lbs. and Austin Carman at 220 lbs.
Romero's consolation finals win came against Jose Marin of Kittitas, a triple overtime 3-2 decision.
Barajas, whose semi-final loss came against a defending State champion, regrouped to score a 14-6 major decision against Quincy's Christian Aleindrez in the consolation finals.
Guerrero, at 120 lbs., fought back from his semi-final loss to edge Wapato's Daniel Espinoza 5-3 in the consolation finals.
Carman, after falling in the semi-finals, stormed back to blast Kennewick's Gerardo Rodriguez in the consolation finals, 13-2.
Sunnyside's fifth third-place finisher at the invite, Miguel Guzman, took the long route to get to the consolation finals. The 195-pounder dropped his opening bout, but put together four consecutive victories, which included pinning Joey Rocha of Selah in the consolation finals.
Sunnyside, too, received a pair of fifth-place performances from David Vidales at 152 lbs. and from Sam Romero at 160 lbs. Vidales went 3-2 on the day in his five matches, while Romero posted a 2-2 record at the tourney.
The top six finishing teams last Saturday, besides Ellensburg (170) and Sunnyside (154) in first and second place, were Todd Beamer with 131 points, Selah with 127, Cheney with 125 and Quincy with 118 points.
Sunnyside has a huge dual meet scheduled in the Grizzly gym this coming Thursday. The Pasco Bulldogs, who like Sunnyside are 5-0 in 3A CBBN conference action this season, will roll into town for all intents and purposes to settle this year's league championship.
"The match starts at 7 p.m. Hopefully, we'll have everyone ready to go. It should be a good one," said Paulus.