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Spartans rise to the occasion at Classic

Last week, the Hillsboro wrestling team made some program history. Considering the Spartans’ track record of success, that is tough to do.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Andrew Downer, shown in Hillsboros dual meet against Forest Grove last Wednesday, went 5-1 at last weekends Oregon Wrestling Classic in Redmond. Downer helped the Spartans take second place to Roseburg in the Class 6A field, a program-best finish.

But this group did. Squaring off against the best large-school teams the state has to offer last Friday and Saturday, the Spartans made it all the way to the Class 6A final of the Oregon Wrestling Classic in Redmond before falling to perennial state power Roseburg. After many years of coming close, this year’s team was Hilhi’s first to advance to the championship match in the prestigious Classic, considered the state’s unofficial dual meet state championship.

“I can’t count it up how many times we’ve gotten third,” said Spartans coach Adam Reese, a man well-versed in his program’s storied history.

In fact, Reese noted, Hilhi’s relationship with the Classic extends back to the first year the tournament took place — about 30 years ago — and never before this season had the Spartans wrestled for the team title. So the Spartans’ leader was pleased to see his team advance to the championship.

That meant that even with a 53-12 loss to the high-powered Indians in the final, the Spartans had much upon which to hang their hat by the time the tournament ended.

Hilhi kicked off the competition Friday with three consecutive wins in its round robin group. The team breezed past Lake Oswego 60-21 before turning back Thurston 45-21 and Pacific Conference foe Newberg 42-27 to earn the top seed out of the group.

With that result, the Spartans drew Oregon City, last year’s Class 6A state tournament runner-up, in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Thanks in part to pins by Peyton Bell, Andrew Downer, Alex Hada, David Interian, Ben Kociemba and Jonathan Rodriguez, the team blitzed the Pioneers 53-18.

In a tight semifinal, Joey Rodriguez, Isaac Nakamoto, Kociemba and Jonathan Rodriguez helped Hilhi’s cause with pins and the team won eight of 14 matches to edge McMinnville 37-29 for that long-awaited trip to the tournament final.

In that match, the Spartans ran into a buzz-saw Roseburg team that has stamped itself as this year’s Class 6A state title favorite, but Ruben Rodriguez-Saenz, Hunter Morse and T.J. Cavender did pick up individual wins for highlights.

Several of their teammates also dropped close decisions to Indian wrestlers that, had those matches swung the other way, would have significantly tightened the dual.

“We’ve got to be able to get into some matches where we’re beating them on technique, because right now, we’re not going to be able to beat them strength-wise,” Reese said about the Indians. “They’re just bigger and stronger than most teams around.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, but it’s a task we’re willing to work for.”

Rodriguez-Saenz, a freshman and the younger brother of four-time state champion Mikey Rodriguez, proved to be the wrestler of the tournament for the Spartans. Competing at both 106 and 113 pounds over the two days, he went a perfect 7-0, the only Hilhi wrestler to go undefeated at the event. Several others — Hada, Matt Peterson, Kociemba, Downer and Cavendar — posted only one loss each.

“We always look for the toughest matchups, and some of what you’d call our best wrestlers, our wrestlers with the best records, got beat,” Reese said. “In fact, a couple of them got beat a couple times.

“And so it was nice to go in there and the guys come together and be ... ‘OK, well one of our best wrestlers gets beat, but we don’t slow down.’ We find a way almost put a stop to anything bad that’s happening and we can kind of feed off anything good that’s happening.”

Another weekend highlight came via Peterson, who picked up his 100th varsity victory in a Spartans uniform. That milestone came in a 9-1 major decision victory against the Grizzlies’ Alvaro Flores at 120 pounds.

Still just a junior, Peterson took sixth at state at 106 pounds in 2013 and still has plenty of time to improve upon that placement and pick up more individual victories.

“That’s a huge milestone in high school wrestling, to pick up 100 wins,” Reese said. “That means you were wrestling as a freshman, to be able to do that. I’ve only had two guys pick it up their junior year, Mikey Rodriguez and then Matt Peterson.”

Hilhi’s run of major meets continues this week, though much less travel is involved. The Spartans are slated to compete today and tomorrow in the Reser’s Tournament of Champions at Liberty High School. The meet, one of the state’s premier invitationals, draws many of the best teams in Oregon, regardless of classification, to compete in a bracket-style rather than dual-meet format. Given the quality of the field, many of the Spartans could well draw rematches of opponents they faced last week at the Classic.

The first varsity matches today begin at 11 a.m. today. The varsity semifinals are slated for 10 a.m. Saturday, with placement matches tentatively scheduled for 4 o’clock. For more information, go to reserstoc.com.



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