The rush of excitement was still swirling inside Jose Jimenez even after the initial celebration had died down.
Moments ago his arm had been raised — declared the victor in his third match at the 2012 Class 2A Region III wrestling tournament. A last-second takedown had given Jimenez a win over Mark Morris High’s Stephen McElyea.
He quickly signed his bout sheet and exited the mat, giving his coach a bear hug before thanking each and every one of his family members who packed the Centralia High School gymnasium in a strong show of support.
Jimenez, then a junior, plopped down off to the side. The Tumwater wrestler still had one more match to go, but he felt satisfied knowing no matter how that match turned out — win or lose — he was headed to the state tournament.
A win would send him to the Mat Classic as the region’s No. 3 seed in the 220-pound division. With a loss he would enter as the No. 4 seed.
Either way it was official — Jimenez, through three years of hard work, was finally a state participant.
And then he wasn’t.
It wasn’t long before he sat down that he noticed a debate raging at the scorer’s table between his coach, his opponent’s coach, tournament officials and referees.
“They were talking for a couple of minutes,” Jimenez remembers. “I wasn’t really sure what they were talking about. I didn’t think much of it. I had already won. I didn’t think it concerned me.”
Unfortunately for Jimenez, it did.
Jimenez would quickly learn that his victory over McElyea was nullified. The final points were now disallowed and his match was declared tied at the end of regulation.
“It got pretty heated,” said Tumwater coach Tony Prentice about the discussion that ultimately reversed the original scoring. “I’ve never had anything like that happen before.”
The match was to be restarted in overtime.
“It was rough,” Jimenez said. “We got back on the mat about a half hour after it originally ended.”
This time around it was McElyea scoring a late takedown en route to a 14-12 victory, which turned Jimenez from state participate to state alternate in one heartbreaking moment.
“I still don’t agree with what happened,” Prentice said. “I think (tournament officials) were wrong with a lot of their protocol, but in the end everything was decided on the mat. The best thing about that whole experience was how well Jose handled it.”
Athletes are always searching for added motivation — an extra edge to push them when everything else is telling them to stop.
Jimenez now has his.
“Losing like that is disappointing,” said Jimenez, who was also a first-team all-league defensive tackle on Tumwater’s Class 2A state runner-up football team, “but I think it made me work harder. I never want to be in that position again; to have something like that taken away from me again. I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Jimenez has taken care of that during his senior year, chalking up an impressive 25-4 record.
“The difference has been night and day,” said Prentice when asked how much Jimenez has improved. “I think he’s been under everyone’s radar this year. It’s only in the last few weeks that people have started to notice him.”
Jimenez parlayed his excellent football season by opening his final wrestling campaign with a victory at the prestigious Sedro-Woolley tournament — less than a week after Tumwater’s 41-7 loss to Lynden in the state football championship.
“The Lynden loss was devastating,” Jimenez said. “We really didn’t know what hit us and I took it pretty hard. To get that close and lose hurts. I look back now and realize all the great things we accomplished, but a week after that loss I was still pretty down. The best thing for me was to get on the mat.”
Jimenez, runner-up at last weekend’s Evergreen Conference 2A subregional tournament, finally gets his chance at redemption today when he returns to the Region III wrestling tournament, which will be held at Tumwater High School.
The top four finishers in each weight division advance to the state tournament at the Tacoma Dome.
“Jose represents what you want your wrestling program to be,” Prentice said. “He’s a hard worker. He goes out there every day and grinds it out, never complains, just puts in the work. Hopefully, it all pays off and he makes it to state. He’s just a great kid.”