Tigers crush districts, 17 will head to state
TUALATIN -- After scoring 465.5 points and qualifying 17 wrestlers for state at last year's Three Rivers League District meet, the Newberg wrestling team set a pretty high bar for itself to clear this winter.
The Tigers came up just shy of that point total, reaching 463.5, but did produce seven individual champions (one more than a year ago) and will once again send 17 wrestlers to the upcoming state tournament, where they have placed third the past two seasons.
However, there is an air of confidence about this year's group coming out of districts that is different than in past few seasons, during which time Newberg has steadily climbed its way back up the pecking order of the state's elite programs.
The Tigers were pretty close to full health and after nearly everything went according to plan over the weekend, they feel poised to unseat Roseburg from its perennial perch atop the 6A classification.
"I think we can make a good run at them at state this year," senior Jack Evans said. "I'm looking forward to that."
The way Newberg plowed through the field during each round of the tournament was impressive, even by the program's high standards, including advancing 23 of the 28 wrestlers it entered into the quarterfinals.
The Tigers went 17-6 in those matches and had at least one wrestler in the semifinals for 13 of the 14 weight classes, then went on to win 11 of those 17 bouts.
Russo credited freshmen Micah Worthington and Boulder Friesen for getting the team off to a fast start Saturday morning, as each won their semifinal at 106 pounds.
"That's a lot of responsibility for two freshmen, but they answered the call," Russo said. "It was all downhill from there."
Worthington went on to pin Friesen in the 106 pound final, with Christopher Strange also winning by fall at 113 pounds and senior Cody Fettig winning by a score of 11-1 at 120 to give Newberg the first three titles of the night.
It was the third district title of Fettig's career, a feat Evans matched two matches later with a second-round fall over Tigard's Emilio Jiminez in the 132-pound final.
Perhaps the best performance of the evening came from senior Taylen Reid in the 145-pound title match. Seeded second, Reid dominated top-seed Jake Lowry en route to an 11-3 major decision and his first trip to the state tournament.
"Taylen has been so close for three years," Russo said. "Last year he was sick. The year before and as a freshman he was one match away, so for him to do that is just icing on the cake. I'm excited for him."
Sophomore Hunter James and heavyweight Tristan Osborn added the Tigers' sixth and seventh individual titles with wins at 195 and heavyweight, respectively.
All four of Newberg's losses in the finals came at the hands of truly elite wrestlers, beginning with Jonah Worthington's loss to returning state champion Gavin Jolley at 126 pounds. Oliver Myers also ran into a state champion in the 160-pound final, falling 22-10 to West Linn's Sean Harman, while 170-pounder Kadyn Lauer was unable to upset top seed Taran Floyd of West Linn, losing 13-4.
"Anytime you put 11 in the finals and seven champs in this league -- I think this is hands down the best league in the state -- it's pretty impressive," Russo said. "Our kids were outstanding. In two days, you always have some disappointments, kids that just didn't quite get what they wanted, but not a one of them quit. The battled all weekend long."
Moving on to state by placing third were Zach Irving (132), Ryan Frey (138) and Rowan Gallardo (152), with fourth-place finishers Diego Salinas (126), Keric Reid (138) and Connor O'Bryan (heavyweight).
Newberg had three more wrestlers (Ben Redwine, Jesus Espinosa and Isaiah Parker) place fifth and three take sixth (Tanner Nicol, D.J. Berry and Branko Frketich) to give the team 23 placers overall.
"We definitely put on a show," Fettig said. "It's been pretty fun to watch. We definitely did what we needed to do to be chasing down that state team title."
For Russo, who barely had a voice left by tournament's end, it was as fun a tournament as he's ever had.
"They're fun to be around," he said. "They're loose and everything is fun and games until they step on the mat. Then it becomes business for them. It's just a pleasure to work with those kids."