High school wrestling: A chat with the 2022 champions

Three wrestlers from Clark County high schools won state championships on Saturday

CJ Hamblin was walking around at a mall on Sunday afternoon, a day after his high school wrestling career came to a triumphant conclusion.

He looked up and saw Faith Tarrant.

“We just bumped into each other,” Hamblin said. “I told her, ‘Good job.’”

“You, too,” Tarrant replied.

Talent recognizes talent.

Hamblin, a senior at Mountain View, and Tarrant, a freshman at Prairie, are two of Clark County’s high school wrestling champions this year. The other? Alex Ford, a junior at Prairie.

On Monday, Clark County Today talked to all three champions, to get a feel for what life has been like since Saturday night at the Tacoma Dome.

Hamblin’s victory was expected. There are no sure things in sports, but Hamblin winning a state title was about as close to a sure thing this season. Now wrestling for Mountain View, he previously won two state titles as a Seton Catholic Cougar. He did not get the chance to win four because there was no state tournament last year.

Ford surprised himself a bit with his state title for the Falcons. Going into Mat Classic, the Washington Wrestling Report had him ranked fifth in his weight class. Ford agreed with that assessment, understanding that he had not yet established himself as the best. Then he went and established himself.

Tarrant had taken a few years away from the sport but returned to wrestling after moving to Clark County from Colorado. It was a way to meet new friends. She started her season slow, then peaked at the perfect time.

With the holiday on Monday, Tuesday will be their first day at school as state champions. Yet another reason to celebrate their accomplishments, to get to relive their glory from the Tacoma Dome.

CJ Hamblin, Mountain View, Class 3A 170 pounds

Mountain View’s CJ Hamblin won the Class 3A state title in the 170-pound division. Photo courtesy Tyler Mode
Mountain View’s CJ Hamblin won the Class 3A state title in the 170-pound division. Photo courtesy Tyler Mode

Pin. Pin. Pin. Those were the three results that got Hamblin into the championship match. Hamblin cruised to victory in the finals with a 17-5 major decision over Jake Humphrey of Walla Walla.

Hamblin endured through a different type of pressure than Ford and Tarrant. He was a marked wrestler, the No. 1 seed, the “can’t miss.” 

“There is a difference between being afraid and nervous,” Hamblin said. “You can be nervous, but you just can’t be afraid.”

He also said nerves are a good thing. Even after winning state as a freshman and a sophomore, even if he was the one to beat this season, being nervous means that it means something to the athlete.

So, yes, Hamblin said he did show some nerves before his final Mat Classic.

Then he showed off his skills.

“It was relieving, to be able to say, ‘Alright, I did what I was supposed to do. I finished strong,” Hamblin said. 

He acknowledged he got a little emotional thinking about the end of one chapter and the start of a new one in his life. He will be headed to Oregon State to wrestle for the Beavers.

Then there is his legacy in Washington high school wrestling.

“I wish I had got four, but I’m happy with three,” he said of individual titles.

Again, no guarantees in sports, but had Hamblin been able to compete in four Mat Classics, there was a great opportunity to win all four years. He would have been the 18th boys wrestler to accomplish that feat and first from Clark County.

“I believe in my heart, what God has given me, I would have been a four-time champion for sure,” Hamblin said. “At the same time, I control what I can control. At the end of the day I wasn’t so mad I wasn’t a four-time state champion. That must have been in God’s plan.”

Hamblin will leave high school as the first individual state champion in Seton Catholic history and now a state champion from Mountain View. Hamblin said he loved his time at Seton Catholic but he was interested in new challenges and experiences.

“I wanted to finish my last year with a lot of my friends I grew up with,” Hamblin said. “Felt like it was a good fit for me.”

Turned into a championship finish.

“I just want to say thanks to all my teammates for believing in me, and thank all the coaches for believing in me,” Hamblin said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the belief they had in me.”

Alex Ford, Prairie, Class 3A 160 pounds

Prairie’s Alex Ford claimed the state championship in the Class 3A 160-pound division. Photo courtesy Tyler Mode
Prairie’s Alex Ford claimed the state championship in the Class 3A 160-pound division. Photo courtesy Tyler Mode

This is a huge deal for the Prairie Falcons, for Alex Ford. 

After all, he became the first state champion from the school since 1987. That’s a long time.

Ford appreciates the spotlight, but he also said he should be the second state champion in 35 years.

“There are some seniors (last year) who didn’t get a chance,” Ford said, referring specifically to Jason Wilcox. “I just feel like my (title) is thanks to him for helping me. I feel like I won it for him, too.”

Wrestling got hammered by the pandemic protocols, last year and again this season. But the spirit of the wrestler remains strong. It might be an “individual” sport out there on the mat, one-on-one, but wrestlers such as Ford know they did not get there alone. His older friend Wilcox missed out on his final opportunity at a state title. So Ford won one for him.

In a bit of a shocker, too.

Ford said he looked at the rankings about a week before Mat Classic. Yep. Fifth seemed about right.

After it was over, after he had his arm raised in victory …

“I was really awestruck and surprised,” Ford said. “Even going into the final, I didn’t have much confidence.”

Then he fell behind 5-1.

“I started panicking a little bit,” Ford said. “I had to reset my mind.”

That’s when it clicked for him. He earned his way to the championship match. Rankings mean nothing on the mat. It’s time.

Ford, trailing 5-1, pinned Austin Justice of Mead in the second round.

“Once I caught him on his back, I heard the ref slap the mat, and I just couldn’t believe it,” Ford said.

“It still feels weird,” he added. “I don’t know if it’s settled in yet. I just really feel thankful for everybody who has helped me. Just thankful.”

It turned out, he was not the only Prairie Falcon to win a state title. Tarrant won in the girls tournament.

“I’m really proud of my teammate who also got first, as a freshman,” Ford said. “That’s just crazy.”

Faith Tarrant, Prairie, Girls 235 pounds

Prairie freshman Faith Tarrant won a state championship at Mat Classic. Photo courtesy Tyler Mode
Prairie freshman Faith Tarrant won a state championship at Mat Classic. Photo courtesy Tyler Mode

Two days after winning the state championship, Faith Tarrant says she is still having fun, walking around the house, saying the words out loud: The 2022 state champion.

“It’s so exciting for me. Telling my family and the smiles on their faces. And them telling me how proud they are of me,” Tarrant said. “It’s amazing.”

Tarrant and Makayla Torres of Toppenish were in a close battle for the title and ended up going into overtime. Tarrant had a few seconds to prepare for one final push to glory.

“Who wanted it more? I was so excited,” Tarrant said. “I thought to myself, ‘I have to win. I have so many goals. I came this far as a freshman. I can’t lose.’”

Not only did Tarrant take down Torres, she ended up with a pin for the title. 

The adrenaline rush came back to her even two days later.

“Talking about it makes me so excited,” she said. “I have a big smile on my face.”

Tarrant wrestled as a child but stopped in the sixth grade. She moved to Washington in October. Her mom, Nicole, advised Faith to pick up the sport again.

“A new state. A new high school. New people. ‘Try to get back into the sport,’ she said. That’s what I did,” Faith Tarrant recalled. “I’m so happy I did.”

She thanked her mom for that nudge, and her teammates for turning her into a champion.

“I love them all,” Tarrant said. “I’m really thankful to be in a wrestling room with that much support.”

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