Russians win cultural exchange match
Thursday night, Nov. 1, the gym at La Pine High School was filled with passionate wrestling fans.
Despite the fact that the winter sports season does not officially start until Nov. 12, the grandstands were packed as two teams lined up to wrestle on the international stage.
An all-star team from Russia on a tour of Oregon chose to stop in La Pine, where they challenged a team of Central Oregon all-stars.
Wrestling freestyle matches — a style that most of the world is familiar with but that Americans seldom wrestle — made some of the matches lopsided at best.
However, wrestlers and coaches alike were quick to point out that there was more to the match than just winning and losing.
"Well, you know, it was fun," said Crook County wrestler Kyle Knudtson. "I've never wrestled freestyle before, but it was fun. I never thought that I would ever do this (compete in a match against international competition), but then here I am doing it. It was a great experience."
The Russians took it to the Central Oregon team, winning 18 of the 23 matches that were contested on the night, many by technical fall.
Still, Russian coach Adamor Sam was quick to point out what a good experience the opportunity was for his team, including for wrestlers who may have lost.
"This is a great experience for our wrestlers," he said. "Wrestlers here have so much passion and so much determination. They go forward no matter what. Even if they are losing, they keep going forward. That makes a challenge for our wrestlers because we don't think like that, and we tend to hold back. It's a great experience to see the enthusiasm and determination from United States wrestlers, and it will help us moving on to our national championships."
Six Crook County wrestlers took to the mats Thursday, with four dropping their matches by technical fall and just one winning on the night.
Freshman Tucker Bonner was the lone Crook County winner on the night, pinning Semen Lukim in the first round of their 106-pound match.
"There's no better feeling," Bonner said after the match. "It's just awesome. I watched him and I knew it was going to be a tight match, but once I started wrestling, it felt better. Watching him helped a little bit, but I don't care how much film or how much you watch them, there's always something new. It's just awesome wrestling people from across the world."
Lukim was the busiest of all the Russian wrestlers on the night, winning three matches, all by technical fall, including a win over Crook County middle school athlete Landon Levy.
Lukim started the night off with a quick technical fall over Devon Kerr.
The Central Oregon team quickly tied the match at one win apiece as Gabe Vilack edged Mikhail Brodikov 7-5 at 115 pounds.
Kagen Lawrence then gave the Central Oregon all-stars a short-lived lead as he came from behind to pin Prokopii Ivanov at 121 pounds.
The Russians then tied the match when Vodim Tastygin earned a technical fall over Crook County freshman Gage Hansen at 126 pounds. When Karkhan Ignatev earned a tech fall over John Downing Jr., the Russians had the lead for good.
"It was pretty tough," Hansen said. "But it's a good way to start the season. You get your conditioning in. It's hard because that is their style. Freestyle is fun, but I've never really wrestled a tournament in freestyle."
Russian wrestlers went on to win 15 of the next 18 matches as they cruised to an easy team victory.
However, that doesn't mean that there weren't highlights for the Central Oregon team.
Ryan Haynie earned a pin over Russia's Mikhail Sergeer at 143 pounds, while Derek Kerr took an 11-7 victory over Brodikov at 115 pounds.
Then, of course, there was Bonner's win over Lukim.
Even in losses, there were several local wrestlers who made their mark.
In the match of the night, Brodikov outlasted Tag Deluca to take a 16-15 win. The Russian coaches were so impressed with Deluca that instead of just shaking hands like is customary, they spoke to Deluca immediately after the match, then Sam picked Deluca up in a big bear hug.
Although Bonner was the lone Crook County wrestler to pick up a victory, all the local wrestlers said that they had a great experience.
Knudtson put up a fight, trailing just 11-8 before losing by tech fall to Aleksei Efimov at 176 pounds.
"I definitely did not get away with any of my mistakes here, but there were times that I did take him down and get a few points out of it."
Jaxson Rhoden also lost by tech fall in his 207-pound match against Daniil Ivanov.
Rhoden weighs in at just 185 pounds, so he was giving up more than 25 pounds to Ivanov, who is known by the nickname of The Unbeatable Giant.
Still, Rhoden was satisfied with his performance in the match against the Russian.
"It was awesome," Rhoden said. "It's sweet, because he was a two-time national champ, and it's so fun to see what their experience is, what they go through year round, and the way they wrestle. If we practiced year round in freestyle, I think that I could hang with them pretty well."
Rhoden added that he likes wrestling freestyle and that the match was a good way to get ready for the upcoming season.
"I like it because it makes people wrestle more, and it makes it much more action packed," he said. "They start right when you get back to the center. It's high paced. You have to train for it, but I think that it would be awesome."
The final Crook County wrestler to compete on the night was Mario Hansen, who lost 12-3 to Roman Nesterov at 229 pounds.
"It's a cool experience to get different styles of wrestling because they are obviously not wrestling collegiate style," Hansen said. "It's really not my go to, it's kind of the thing that you do in the off season for fun, but that's kind of how it is all over the United States. I thought that they would be like crazy good, but I think that they just beat us in experience."
Sam said that as important as the wrestling was for his team, that the interaction with people from other parts of the world was much more important.
The Russian team is from Siberia, and they spend much of the year isolated from the rest of the world.
"Our wrestlers are from small towns," Sam said. "Some from villages of 200 or fewer, so they like wrestling in small places like this. They love the experience, and your roads are so good, and your schools so nice. It's just a great experience for our kids to see what some of the rest of the world is like."
Sam added that in addition, he believes that making friends in other countries is good for international diplomacy.
"Our politicians, on both sides, have made lots of mistakes," he said. "We are here to change people's minds about Russia and about the Russian people to make things better. It's people diplomacy, and we love it."