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Tigers rule at Lions Invitational

Chuck Smock, sports editor

The current Douglas High seniors were just beginning their elementary school careers the last time the Tigers won the Carson Valley Lions Club Invitational wrestling tournament.

The 12-year drought ended Saturday when Bill Nickerson’s squad ran away with the team title of the tournament that was being held for the 26th time.

The Tigers sent six wrestlers to the gold medal round and walked off with the team championship trophy from their own tournament for the first time since 1989. Douglas rolled up 192 points, while Reno finished a distant second with 142.5 points.

Nathan Bennett won the 171-pound weight class and the tournament’s Outstanding Upper Weight Wrestler award. David Tingle won the 145-pound gold medal to lead the Tigers to their first team title of the season.

Another featured match was the 125-pound final between Douglas senior Romaine Smokey and Reno’s Tommy Williams. Williams, a third-place finisher at state last year, outlasted Smokey 5-4. Smokey’s season record now stands at 21-2.

Tiger senior John Hillenbrand finished second at 189 pounds.

Douglas freshman 103-pounder Matt Yaquinto and sophomore heavyweight Mark Butti also placed second in their respective weight classes.

The championship was all the more special for a Douglas program that finished 11th at the Northern 4A Zone tournament last year and 13th in 1999.

“Coach Nickerson came in at the beginning of the season and he told us, ‘This is our year. This is the beginning of where we restore our tradition and take Douglas wrestling back to what it used to be,'” Tingle said. “Our team is doing excellent now. Everybody is doing their part; the team as a whole is working together and we’re accomplishing great things together. It’s just awesome.”

Hillenbrand, who lost a 13-6 decision in the 189-pound finals to Dayton’s Shane VanZant (a finalist in the 189-pound division at last year’s 3A state tournament), echoed those words.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” the senior said. “We practiced hard all week. Our coach pushed us, he told us that this was our tournament and we should win this.

“We wanted to do this for him. I think he’s going to stick with it and take this team to the next level.”

Bennett picked up his outstanding wrestler award by pinning Tye Bader of Sparks in the semifinals and then David Skroch of Hug in the finals. Bennett improved his season record to 22-1.

“I was determined not to lose in front of the home crowd,” said Bennett, who drew a loud ovation from the hometown crowd when he pinned Skroch with two seconds remaining in the second period. “All the people screaming, that helped a lot.”

Tingle had an impressive day as well. The junior was a 17-3 victor over previously unbeaten Ian Wrenn of Tahoe-Truckee in the semifinals and then he used a second-round takedown to beat Lowry’s Russell Krall in the finals. Krall’s season record is 21-4.

“I came out confident and I believed in myself,” Tingle said. “The last match was a big one because he (Krall) won the Lowry Invitational and I came out third. I knew I needed to be smart because he’s a tough wrestler.”

Galena finished fourth as a team with 117.5 points, one-half point behind Churchill County in the race for third, and the Grizzlies took home two of the three Outstanding Wrestler awards – Michael Crooks (103 pounds) for the lightweights and Chris Fritz (152 pounds) for the middleweights.

Fritz, now 28-4 on the season, defeated Reno’s Josh Kivi 6-4 in the finals. A takedown in the final 30 seconds enabled Fritz to break a 4-4 tie against Kivi, who was a state champion 119-pounder in 1999.

Crooks, a zone champion last year, improved his current season record to 30-3 when he pinned Yaquinto in the third round of the gold medal match.

A day of celebration for the Tigers was tempered somewhat by the loss of senior Drew Hall to a shoulder injury.

Hall, a two-time state qualifier, dislocated his right shoulder during his second match of the day and was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

He said he first hurt his shoulder during his freshman year and has been dealing with the nagging injury for four years.

“The doctor said if I ever wanted to do sports after (this) wrestling (season), I’d have to have surgery done on it,” Hall said Saturday. “He said I could probably tough it out through the season, but that was before today when I dislocated it.

“It’s been going on for the last four years and it’s gotten increasingly worse this year, but this is by far the worst it’s ever been.”

The Tigers’ 160-pounder said he is considering several options -including wearing a brace and doing intensive therapy -that he hopes will allow him to be able to compete at the Region tournament Feb. 9-10.

“There’s not much you can do with one arm,” Hall said. “I’m just going to try to do what I can. I’ll take it as it comes.”