Bulldog wrestlers qualify four for state

PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn junior Rafael Vasquez upset three higher ranked opponents on his way to earning the 132-pound district title at the Mid-Willamette wrestling tournament on Friday and Saturday.For Woodburn junior Rafael Vasquez, the 15-plus minutes he spent on the mat at the Mid-Willamette regional wrestling tournament are one of those moments that will be burned into his memory for the rest of his life.

The 138-pounder entered the tournament seeded sixth in his weight class and was a dark horse contender to even finish in the top four to qualify for the state wrestling tournament. But a season of intense training and dedication paid off in the best way possible over the two-day tournament, with Vasquez gutting his way through three difficult matches to come out on the other end as the regional champion.

“To me, this tournament was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever gone through,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez led Woodburn to a sixth-place finish at the regional tournament, and will be joined by senior Michel Vasquez (113 pounds, third), freshman Giovanni Bravo (132, fourth) and Jacob Shepherd (182, fourth) at the 5A State Wrestling Championships in Portland this weekend.

According to Woodburn head coach Dusty Price, the road to being a regional champion couldn’t have happened to a better person.

“No one has worked harder than Rafa on and off the mats,” Price said. “He sacrifices his lunch time every day to mop the mats before practice. He has never missed a practice in high school and is a three-time Guts Club member this season.”

The Guts Club is an internal honor for the Woodburn wrestling program, which seeks to highlight athletes who commit fully to the program and never miss a practice or tournament. Few wrestlers end up making it a full season without missing at least one practice, let alone three seasons. But that dedication is just something that is inherent in Vasquez, Price said, whether it’s on the wrestling mat or in the classroom.

“He is a great student as well, and stays up beyond midnight working hard to excel in his IB classes,” Price said. “He deserves to be the district champ in so many ways. He exemplifies everything that we are trying to achieve as a program.”

Vasquez’s had a difficult road to the regional title, having to go up against wrestlers who were seeded higher than him in every single match. After receiving a first-round bye, Vasquez had a close 7-4 decision over Dallas’ third-seeded Joseph English in the quarterfinal match.

In the semifinals, Vasquez took down second-seeded Cody Klient of Lebanon in a thrilling overtime match that was decided on a match-winning takedown.

To cap off the tournament, Vasquez pinned top-seeded Ean Woodruff of Dallas in the second round.

“Even after my match, I watched my matches over and over again because I couldn’t find a perfect way to describe my feelings after my victory,” Vasquez said. “For the first time I had tears of joy in my eyes, knowing I would become Woodburn’s next district champion.”

Joining him at the state tournament will be senior Michel Vasquez, who returns to state after missing out his junior year. Michel Vasquez went 4-1 over the two-day tournament, with a pair of dominating performances on the first day. He made a quick 42-second pin in the first round and followed with a 15-0 technical fall in the quarterfinals.

Michel Vasquez fell by a 10-2 decision in the semifinals, but bounced back with a 10-3 win over South Albany’s Anthony Pulido in the consolation bracket.

With third place on the line, he picked up a 12-7 decision in overtime over Joseph Foster of Dallas.

Bravo capped his successful freshman season with the Bulldogs with a fourth-place finish at 132 pounds.

After advancing to the bracket semifinals, Bravo lost back-to-back matches to put him on the edge of elimination. But he won by injury default in his final two bouts, putting him on the road to Portland.

Woodburn’s final state qualifier, Shepherd, also advanced to the semifinals of his bracket after enjoying a pair of quick pins over his first two opponents.

He fell to Central’s David Negrete in the semis, but scored an important 3-0 victory over Derek Boldt of Lebanon on the consolation side of the bracket.

Shepherd lost 10-7 to Dallas’ Clay Coxen in the third place match, but was paired against Boldt in the fourth-place match to determine the final 182-pound qualifier.

Having already beaten Boldt earlier in the tournament, Shepherd was awarded fourth place by tournament rule to become Woodburn’s final qualifier.

In total, the Bulldogs placed nine wrestlers within the top six, including Karson Christiansen (145, fifth), Israel Paniagua (152, sixth), Carlos Lazaro (220, sixth), Abraham Robles (285, sixth) and Rex Ramirez (132, sixth).

“I’m looking forward to the state tourney this upcoming weekend and hopefully I can place in the top six along with my other teammates,” Rafael Vasquez said.

The 2016 5A State Wrestling Championships will be held at Portland Memorial Coliseum Friday and Saturday.

Phil Hawkins covers sports and the city of Gervais. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1194.PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior Michel Vasquez (on top) picked up a 15-0 win over Christian Avalos of Corvallis en route to a third place finish and a trip to state in the 113-pound bracket.

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