Bulldog teammates battle for state title

by: PHOTO BY JEREMY LANTHORN - Culver's Kyle Bender, right, embraces teammate Clay McClure after their state championship match Saturday evening in Portland. Making it to the state finals in wrestling is usually a joyous occasion. But Saturday afternoon once Culver wrestlers Clay McClure and Kyle Bender won their respective semifinal matches at 145 pounds in the OSAA 2A/1A state meet, their joy was quickly displaced with a hint of sadness.

For the third time in their careers, the two friends would have to wrestle each other for a title.

It's not an easy thing to do.

In a battle of brothers that know more about each other than maybe themselves, McClure scored a 2-0 win for his second-straight state title. Bender had to settle for a second-place medal to go with a pair of third-place ones.

“It’s a long journey and you put a lot of hard work into it, but wrestling a teammate in the finals is mentally and physically tough,” McClure said. “You both know what you want to do and it’s hard to set yourself up because he knows exactly what he wants to do.”

While it was the third time the two had faced off in a tournament finale, it was the second time within a week, as the two had wrestled for the district title in Culver. In that match, McClure scored a 5-4 win.

Friends before the match and definitely after it, the two went after each other with gusto and intensity.

“It was a real hard match; we both did some things we wanted to do,” McClure said. “It’s hard when you’ve pretty much been one with each other, wrestling all year in the wrestling room. It’s hard.”

That was the hardest part for both.

Not only are they teammates, they are workout partners and fast friends ever since McClure joined the Culver team after attending Central Linn last year.

“He was always there to help me warm up and show me moves; we did everything together,” Bender said. “Out on runs, the practices, he’s my brother so that makes it really hard.”

With both kids a little banged up, there was an unspoken bond between the two that certains areas were off limits.

“I know his ankle hurts him but I don’t want to hurt him,” Bender said. “I hope he feels the same about me because my knee is really bugging me. I want to take care of him; I don’t want to hurt him.”

Bender's knee was so bad it appeared that he might have to be pulled from the tournament before it ever started. But he gutted his way through and earned his third state medal. McClure now has two titles and will be back to attempt a third next season.

While the match was hard on the kids, it wasn't easy for coach J.D. Alley either. In his 24 years of coaching wrestling, this was just the second time he has had to watch teammates battle for a state title.

“That’s not a very exciting way to win,” Alley said. “That match, even though that was a good, solid match and two great kids, that wasn’t near as much fun as Marco’s (Retano winning the 113-pound title). It’s not a very fun thing for them, either.”

Once the match was over, the pair embraced on the mat, both exhausted. Bender sought out a little solitude under the stands immediately following the match, while McClure took congratulations from anyone who wanted to hand them out.

But the two friends ended up together for one more embrace before heading out to the awards stand.

“I’m happy with the way it turned out,” Bender said. “It’s been a good ride.”

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