With defeat comes decision at the Class 6A state championship wrestling meet.
Any grappler that loses outside of his or her state title bout, be it the first round, quarterfinals or even the semis, faces the same choice: bow out early or keep fighting until there's nobody left to face. Every state tournament qualifier will tell you the goal is to win a title, but when that dream is dashed, it's those that stay on their feet and keep soldiering on that often ultimately get the most satisfaction.
For all but one Metro League wrestler, Westview senior superstar Angel Sanchez, this was the common refrain around Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. Pack it in, head home or hang around and climb as high up the podium as possible.
For those such as Aloha seniors Kieran McCalpin and Colton Fleming and Westview senior Travis Blasingame, the option was easy. Beaten in the semis, both McCalpin (170 pounds) and Blasingame (145) wrestled back through their respective brackets and took home third place medals.
"I could've easily quit after I made it to the placing rounds, but I wanted to dig deep and finish out strong," McCalpin said. "This is my last season, last tournament ever and I had nothing to lose. I fell short of my goal, but it's not a total loss in the end. I kept going through adversity."
Fleming made it to the semis for the first time in his career and took sixth in the notoriously tough 152-pound bracket. Fleming, McCalpin, Drew Fritz and Payton Volk were part of a strong senior core that came into their high school careers with big postseason ambitions. They had three different coaching staffs along the way, hordes of talented teammates and like-minded practice partners. But their fate fell at their own feet.
"If you want something, you have to work for it," Fleming said. "Wrestling is a weird sport. The hardest worker and the most determined guy is going to win every time. It's who sacrifices the most. The more you sacrifice, the more you get out, especially in this sport when it's all on you. You can't rely on your team to win your matches for you. You need your team to help you get better, to try to break you in practice, but to win, you have to have your own mental toughness and drive."
Some of the credit, the Aloha captain said, went to head coach Ron Holyoak for getting the Warriors in peak physical and mental form, instilling confidence and a cardiovascular base that's hard to beat.
"I knew I could compete with all of those kids," Fleming said. "It was just the will and the conditioning. My gas tank was going throughout the entire match and I was trying to tire out the other kid. We try to break our opponents and try to make them quit. Some matches would've been different if weren't for conditioning. We all learned a lot and became different wrestlers."
The fourth seed going into state, Fleming was beaten by top-ranked Cael Brunson of West Linn.
"It didn't how I wanted to, but I fought as hard as I could in every match," Fleming said. "Cael just did everything better. He was a great wrestler. Everything I did, he had a counter. The other guys knew how to brawl too."
In Blasingame's case, there was certainly no shame in losing to semifinal final opponent, Beau Ohlson of Mountain View. Ohlson went on and won the 145-pound bracket, earning his fourth state championship in as many years. But Blasingame wasn't going to end his career with a loss.
"It was tough battling back after getting whooped on by Beau, but it was nice to come out as high (on the podium) as I could," Blasingame said. "I was just here having fun, not stressing out, not getting nervous before every match. I just wanted to enjoy my last tournament, my last six minutes of wrestling and go all out. That's all I could think about."
Blasingame pinned Newberg sophomore Price Pothier with just two seconds left in the second period, catching the Tiger on his back to earn the fall.
"The emotions after the match were just flowing, it was awesome," Blasingame said with a smile. "I caught his arms, sat, squeezed and waited for that whistle to blow."
For McCalpin, the consolation bracket was a personal proving ground, a chance to who prove his mettle even if meant not winning a first-place medal. McCalpin said he pushed to and through his physical limits more than he thought possible. The Warriors who lost before the state championship bouts weren't the first to ever take a defeat. Holyoak was ousted when he was a state contender. Assistant coach Jeremiah Baker was bounced from the semifinals three or four times. Both encouraged McCalpin to leave the Memorial Coliseum with no regrets, with no bullets left in the chamber.
"That really motivated me to keep pushing for myself," McCalpin said. "I love my teammates, but I felt like I needed to do this for myself. Sometimes you need to be selfish in wrestling. You need to be there for your teammates and practice partners, but in a meet like this, in your senior season, sometimes you have to go out there for yourself. I had to wrestle to my ability, do what I do, wrestle my match. It was a great personal achievement."
Looking back on a senior season that included a district title and a career that included both individual and team distinction, McCalpin said he can move on without looking back with a lingering sense of remorse.
"I grinded so hard these past four years to make it to where I am now," McCalpin said. "Fifteen years from now I'm not going to be worrying about whether I won a state championship or not. I'm still going to be using the same life lessons that I learned through wrestling in later on. This season turned out better than I could've hoped. My coaches pushed me and put that thought of 'state champ' in my head. They're so good with their motivational talks and speeches. I've never been closer to my teammates than I was this year. We really became a family."
Westview, with Sanchez and Blasingame setting the tone atop their respective podiums, pushed up to eighth overall in the team standings with 89 points, highest among all Metro schools. Aloha took 11th overall with 66.5 points while Mountainside was 16th with 52.5 points. Metro was cutthroat as ever this year with Aloha, Westview and Mountainside splitting the regular-season crown, the Mavericks winning the district tourney and the Wildcats finishing higher than any of the three on the state stage. But when it came time for state, boundary lines and feuds were put aside. In the stands, one could see Aloha's conglomerate of fans and wrestlers cheering on Sanchez during his state title win. All of the district's qualifiers intermingled around the arena, waiting for matches, encouraging each other, yelling for one another when match time came during the two-day tourney.
"Every school in Metro is a rival, the competition is insane," McCalpin said. "But when you come to a state tournament and go into staging (area), we're all talking to each other, talking about other wrestlers, about game plans. We come as a family in the state tournament."
The Warriors, with Holyoak at the helm for the foreseeable future, are in good hands both Fleming and McCalpin proclaimed. The younger guys who are learning from their head coach as underclassmen will be "full of fight and conditioning" by the time their careers come to a close, Fleming said.
"If he's here for five, 10 years, they're going to be in the history books for sure," McCalpin said with a smile. "They're going to be winning state championships like no other. He's a great coach."
Senior Jontae Allen and Nicholas Calhoun both claimed sixth place for the Mavericks, becoming the first state placers in school history. Sunset was 28th with 20 points while Southridge and Beaverton finished in 42nd and 43rd place overall.
"It was awesome to see people come out and scrap from Metro," Blasingame said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.