On the way to the Tacoma Dome from Washougal, Stephen Camden’s plans for the Mat Classic state wrestling tournament changed dramatically.
On Feb. 16, the Washougal High School junior made the trip with alternates Matt Wilson and Tyler Purkeypyle. Stephen was going to spend the weekend cheering for his sister Haven and her teammate Erin Locke.
“When I went up there, I didn’t really have it in my head that I was going to wrestle,” he said. “I knew it was like a million to one shot because someone from my league had to get hurt.”
When Hockinson’s Josiah Niemela dislocated his shoulder and was unable to compete at state, Camden just happened to be the first one in line to take his spot in the Class 2A 160-pound bracket.“It all hit me at once,” Camden said. “I found out at the last minute I was actually going to get to wrestle at state. It was big.”Head coach John Carver said Camden didn’t find out he was going to wrestle until about 5 p.m. the day before the tournament. He was already in the Tacoma Dome practicing.Camden got off to a rocky start. He let his lead over Olympic’s Zeke Gaeta slip away in the third round and lost 14-7.
“After I wrestled that first kid, it gave me the confidence I needed to keep going,” Camden said. “It let me know I could hang with those guys.”
Camden bounced back in a big way by winning his next three matches. He defeated Joel Trujillo of Bulington Edison by injury default and then outlasted Brennon Gulin of White River 6-5 to advance to the medal round. The next morning, Camden beat Beau Bryan of Black Hills 6-4. He lost his last two matches and settled for a sixth-place medal.
“I look back on my experience knowing I gave everything I had,” Camden said. “Nothing I had ever been to before was as big as the Tacoma Dome. It pumped me up to be right there in the middle of it all. There was also the realization that I could have been up in the stands watching. I’d much rather be wrestling.”
Over in the 124-pound girls bracket, Stephen’s sister Haven Camden was making a name for herself as a freshman. She pinned Brooke Doggett of Stanwood in the first round, lost to Othello’s Tatum Sparks in the second round, pinned Kelsey Jones of Winlock and pinned Dani Maia of Mount Baker. Haven was rolling until she lost to her nemesis McKenna Emmert of Kelso. She also fell short against Warden’s Mixey Gonzalez and finished in sixth place.
“My favorite memory from state was watching my brother and knowing we were still going,” Haven said. “When we both got sixth, that was pretty cool.”
Stephen said he started wrestling when he was about 5.
“I just like the fact that you can go out there and show somebody you can beat them with pretty much the same skills,” he said. “Plus, it works your body and teaches you to be mentally tough.”
A few years later, Haven also got into the sport.
“He’s my brother and I wanted to be just like him,” she said. “I wrestled him all the time when I was little, and it just grew from there. I’ve always loved it.”
The Camden sibling rivalry will continue in the Washougal wrestling room for one more winter. They both dream of getting back into the Tacoma Dome and wrestling for more hardware.
“Now that we’ve been there before, we know how hard we have to work,” Stephen said. “Our goal is to be on the top of the podium. What other goal can you set? You don’t hear someone say, ‘I want to go up there and place third.’”