Tigers just shy of a state title
PORTLAND -- All season, the Newberg wrestling team has had its sights set on unseating four-time defending 6A state champion Roseburg.
The Tigers came up just short at the Oregon Classic, falling 36-28 in the 6A finals, then came out ahead at the Reser's Tournament of Champions, finishing third overall and the highest among 6A teams.
The one that really mattered, however, was the OSAA state championships over the weekend at Memorial Coliseum.
Newberg matched Roseburg in just about every respect, as both teams produced four finalists and two individual state champions, with Roseburg finishing with 10 state placers to the Tigers' nine.
Where Newberg couldn't measure up was in depth, having brought 17 wrestlers to the tournament compared to the perennial champions' 22, which was a major factor in Roseburg collecting 252 points to claim their fifth straight crown.
Newberg finished with 223.5 points to earn second-place by a wide margin over Sprague (192) and David Douglas (162), and although there was disappointment, the Tigers were satisfied with their performance.
"We won basically all the matches we needed to," junior Christopher Strange said. "It was close and we made a run at it."
Each year NHS coach Neil Russo projects how the tournament will play out and this year he was accurate in predicting the scores of the top four teams, with the exception of his own. The actual results only hammered home the idea that the team wrestled pretty close to its full potential or "maxed out," as Russo would say.
"I had us at 180.5 and we scored north of 220, so that's a 40-point improvement," Russo said. "I couldn't ask for a better performance from our kids this weekend."
The weekend was filled with a number of outstanding performances and memorable moments, led by individual title runs by Strange at 113 pounds and senior Tristan Osborn at heavyweight.
Strange, who lost in the state final a year ago and was also second the past two years at Reser's, rolled into the finals with two falls and a major decision in three matches.
He was in control of the championship match versus North Medford's Chase Mitchell from the start, taking a 4-2 lead into the third period and opting for the down position.
Mitchell (36-9) was unable to turn him and decided to cut him with less than 20 seconds remaining in the match. Strange, however, appeared confused and stayed on the ground and was eventually penalized twice for stalling, which sent the match to sudden victory overtime tied 4-4.
"I thought there was less time and if I spent just one to two seconds down that it would be fine," Strange said. "It turned out taking it to overtime, but I didn't really mind."
The junior quickly refocused, quickly shooting for and eventually securing a takedown for a 6-4 victory and a long-awaited state title.
Russo said he was actually pleased that Strange was forced to win the match in overtime, as opposed to passively holding on to the lead, and overjoyed to see his pupil finally break through.
"He's had a bunch of runner-up finishes and that weighs on him," Russo said. "To get that monkey off of his back, I think the sky is the limit for him."
Strange (45-3) was seeded No. 1 in his bracket, as was Osborn, who earned falls in each of his three matches to reach the final, where he faced Oregon City's Lane Marshall.
After failing to get at Marshall's legs in the early going, Osborn (44-6) defended a take down and came very close to circling around him to secure a takedown, but stayed on top of him for the entire round.
"I knew he was coming up from 220, so he was about 40 pounds less than me, so the more I could get my weight on him, the more he would tire out," Osborn said.
That paid dividends in the second period, as Osborn quickly earned a reversal after starting on the bottom and it took him about 40 seconds to turn Marshall (36-6) and secure the fall.
"It was definitely my best weekend ever," Osborn said. "I pinned my way through state, so you can't ask for much more."
Two of the most thrilling moments for Newberg actually came in the semifinals, where senior Taylen Reid and sophomore Hunter James scored upsets to advance to the finals.
Reid was seeded No. 5 at 145, but needed just 31 seconds to pin No. 1 seed Michael Abeyta (45-5) of McMinnville.
"I was looking for one big move," Reid said. "I saw the opportunity there and before the match Neil told me to squeeze the heck out of him and I think I did that. I got him in the head and arm. He rolled through, but I got him back and stuck it."
Reid (32-11) later fell 11-6 to Noach Wachsmuth (39-4) of Clackamas in the final, but was still elated with how he closed out his career.
"I've been so close to just making it (to state) every year and to make it all the way to second place, it's more than I thought I could ever do," Reid said. "It would have been better to get first, but it felt real good just to be in that championship."
James, the No. 3 seed at 195 pounds, also scored an upset by fall in the semifinals, pinning No. 2 seed Terrell Jacks with 23 seconds remaining in the third period. The sophomore (38-11) was overmatched against returning state champion Santos Cantu (36-3) of Sprague in the final, but didn't back down, eventually losing 13-4.
"Everyone won matches they were supposed to win and then they beat people they're not supposed to beat," Reid said. "That's how Neil has been telling us how we have to wrestle and we really did this week."
Senior Cody Fettig (37-3) fell short of earning back-to-back state titles after being pinned in the third period of a back-and-forth 120-pound semifinal bout versus Westview's Nick Capetillo (40-5). Fettig bounced back to place third, pinning Sprague's Colby Hemmert in the consolation semifinals and beating Roseburg's Kahleb Diaz 5-2 in the third-place match.
"I didn't get what I necessarily wanted, but for the team I had to bite down and hunker through it," Fettig said.
Jack Evans, the No. 6 seed at 132 pounds, certainly didn't get off to the start he wanted, losing his opening match by fall to Westview's Travis Blasingame (38-15). The senior (33-13) proceeded to peel off six consecutive wins in the consolations to place third.
"I was up 9-6 and I kind of goofed up and he caught me, pinned me," Evans said of his loss. "It was a blessing in disguise, as well, because it taught me I could persevere through all the other matches and I really enjoyed it. It was a good fight and well worth it."
NHS 106-pounder Micah Worthington (42-11) and 160-pounder Oliver Myers (42-14) both placed fourth for the Tigers and senior Kadyn Lauer (38-16) finished his career with a victory after beating Kyle McCalpin of Aloha 5-2 in the fifth-place match at 170.
"I told them today, we've had teams with more talent, but I don't know that we've had a team with more character and more competitiveness," Russo said. "That's saying a lot because we've had some good groups, but this group is unbelievable. Those seniors that are leaving the program, they're leaving some pretty big shoes to fill."