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In all, the Braves qualified eight boys and three girls for the state wrestling meet.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Banks' Ramsey Hering placed third at last month's state wrestling championships. Hering was one of four state-placers for the Braves, and 11 state qualifiers.For the Banks High School wrestling team, the 2021 season was tumultuous and sometimes frustrating — but it was worth it.

"It was definitely different, and we told the kids it would be that way going in," head coach Dan Herb said. "But we got to do some fun stuff, and the kids got to wrestle, so that's good."

And wrestle they did. With the condensed schedule, kids throughout the state practiced less and wrestled more, and in a very short amount of time.

Herb said that at one point, the Braves wrestled 15 dual meets in 16 days. Additionally, they did so four to five months later than usual, and in some cases outside — which was one of the year's highlights, according to the coach.

"We wrestled outside three or four times, and that was fun," Herb said. "The kids really enjoyed that, opposed to be stuffed in a gym. Plus, some of the places put it on the football field at the 50-yard line, and it had a totally different aura. It kind of made them feel like they were in the spotlight. It was cool."

What wasn't cool was the initial idea of wearing masks. While feasible on a volleyball court, football or soccer field, or baseball or softball diamond, wrestling with a mask provided more than its share of complications.

What do you do if a mask is pulled over someone's eyes?

Do you stop a match every time a wrestler's mouth or nose is exposed?

How frequently would a competitor be adjusting and/or re-adjusting their mask, and how big of a role would that play in the competition?

Thankfully for Herb and his team, it didn't come to that, because statewide mask mandates were relaxed shortly before the beginning of the competitive season. Still, Herb said he and his coaching staff often wondered aloud about the logistics of it all, and even if it were even a real possibility due to the countless complications.

"Putting my own politics aside, I didn't really think it was feasible," Herb said. "You couldn't really do that in a wrestling match. I don't know how you could referee it. You'd be stopping the match every 20 seconds."

Considering the potential mask complications, the odd time of year, and the overlap from spring sports such as baseball and track, Herb said the wrestling team's turnout exceeded expectations. PMG FILE PHOTO - Banks' Hunter Smith wrestles during a match his sophomore season. The junior was one of four state-placers for the Braves, and 11 state qualifiers.The coach said nearly all his kids chose to participate — and many excelled.

Four Braves boys, Ramsey Hering, Rephael Mauck, Dylan Smith and Hunter Smith, won district championships, and eight (Hering, Mauck, the Smiths, George Bergstrom, Luke Bozied, Daevon Vereen and Mishael Mauck) qualified for the state meet, while girls Serenity Moody (110), Madelyn Russell (140) and Kassandra Douglas (170) all placed fourth at the OSAA Girls North Regional, also qualifying for state.

And it was that state meet — which was initially questionable to be held — that motivated Braves wrestlers at the tail end of what had already been a very long year.

"We really didn't know if we were going to have a state meet for a while there," Herb said. "We always had it on our schedule, but we didn't know. So, when we found out there was going to be one, it really motivated the kids, and it was all hands on deck from then on."

At state, the Braves were led by the Smith brothers, who both placed second after losing tough championship matches at 120 and 126 pounds. Hunter, who entered undefeated at 120 pounds lost to Sweet Home's Jake Sieminski in the final, while his brother Dylan lost to Stayton's Mauro Michel in the 126-pound final, making Michel a three-time state champion.

Meanwhile, senior Hering placed an impressive third at 285 pounds, and sophomore Daevon Vereen capped an impressive season with a fifth-place finish at 195 pounds.

Herb spoke highly of Vereen's improvement over the short season and even higher of his potential going forward.

"He had a lot of improvement and is just a good kid," Herb said. "He's really just starting to figure out how to wrestle and adjust to his style. He's got the potential to win a couple titles in the coming years."

And speaking of those years, Herb said the team projects well going forward. Three of the Braves' state-placers return next season, and the Banks youth program continues to produce kids as they approach high school competition.

"Our three seniors were pretty big contributors," the coach said, "but we return a lot of points, and hopefully we can get some new blood in here too."

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