Lady Champ: Bailey Dennis looks to 3-peat
The No. 1-ranked 190-pound female wrestler in Oregon, No. 4-ranked in the nation, Bailey Dennis, transferred to Madras for her junior year and the decorated wrestler shows no sign of slowing down as a White Buffalo.
The three-time all-American, two-time state and one-time national champion is making a name for herself at the perfect time, as girls wrestling is growing dramatically.
Five years ago girls wrestling was considered an exhibition sport, where in Oregon, only one regional tournament was held and the top wrestlers faced each other.
Last year was the first year girls wrestling was highlighted at the state tournament with both the boys and girls wrestling at the same tournament. This year, girls wrestling became an OSAA fully sanctioned sport and schools can now win a team trophy.
Girls wrestling has one division no matter the classification; 1A-6A wrestlers compete at 14 different weight classes. The weight classes jumped from 10 weight classes to 14 this year due to the increase in girls participating in wrestling.
This year there were two regional tournaments, the Northern Regionals, held at Thurston High School, and the Southern Regionals, held at Liberty High School. From last year to this year, there was a 20 percent increase in female wrestlers and around 180 female wrestlers competed at each tournament.
The finalist from the Northern Regionals wrestles the semifinalist from the Southern Regional semifinalist and vice versa. There is already talk of increasing the state tournament from a four-person bracket to an eight-person bracket due to the increase in numbers.
Dennis demolished all of her female competition this year. She only wrestled four other girls before regionals and pinned every single one. Her longest match lasted 3 minutes and 55 seconds.
Madras head wrestling coach Cameron Mitchem and Dennis agreed it would be better for Dennis to wrestle boys throughout the year instead of girls. They both agreed the competition would be better for the back-to-back state champion.
"Almost every tournament has the option to wrestle in a girls division," Mitchem said. "She would not have very good competition there, so it was a better option to wrestle the boys. She was around .500 until maybe mid-January. The last couple tournaments did not go so well, but for most of the year, she was right up there."
The Ridgeview transfer, Dennis, who nearly won half her matches against boys, traveled to Thurston on Feb. 2, for her regional competition.
Dennis, a 190-pound wrestler went right into the semifinals match, where she faced Tayla Parsons, of Crow High School in Eugene. It took 37 seconds for Dennis to pin Parsons and advance to the finals match.
"I passed by her, took her down and barbed wired her over to her back for the pin," Dennis said.
A barbed wire move is where your opponent is on their stomach and you are on top. You cross-face them, grab their far arm, turn them on their back, while moving to their side and move to a north-south position, as their arms are crossed (like a barbed wire).
Dennis' finals opponent was a familiar face, Jasmine O'Neal, of La Pine, an opponent she pinned earlier in the year. She pinned O'neal at the Adrian Irwin Women's Tournament in 2:39, placing first at her old stomping grounds at Ridgeview High School. That was the only loss O'neal had the entire year.
It took around the same time to pin O'Neal in the regional finals, 2:22, claiming first for the White Buffalos.
"She had a stalling call on her for backing up so much," Dennis said. "I was trying to wrestle her, but she was backing up so much, I had to wait until the end of the first period. She deferred and I chose top and did another barbed wire move and she was pinned. She (O'Neal) will likely be my state finals opponent, I wouldn't expect anyone else."
To stay ready for state, Dennis wrestled at the district tournament held in Madras on Feb. 8-9. Wrestling all boys, Dennis placed sixth for Madras and stood on the podium with the rest of the boys.
Dennis' story is not an average story. Her dad was a boxer and her mom a weight lifter.
"With my dad and mom, it was pretty much a genetic thing to wrestle," Dennis said.
She started wrestling with her brother, Dylan Dennis, at the Smith Rock Mat Club, now known as the Rock of Redmond.
"I would always play wrestle with him at the Smith Rock Mat Club and would always watch all of his tournaments, practicing with him before and after," she said
Bailey started actual wrestling competitions in sixth grade, but something tragic happened to her brother.
Five years ago, when Bailey was in seventh grade, her brother, Dylan, was at practice, training for state as a freshman, and bumped heads with his training partner which caused parts of his brain to bleed. The combination of blood in the brain and severe dehydration caused Dylan to have a stroke, which resulted in brain damage.
Dylan was in and out of the hospital for a month and could not remember who he was for six months, forgetting things like his own name and what the family car looked like.
"He did recover from the stroke, but he had to relearn things like how to walk and talk and all sorts of things," Dennis said. "The only problems he had after recovery were he had to wear glasses and miss a year of school."
"At the time, I felt like wrestling was taken away from the wrong person," Dennis said. "I liked wrestling, but Dylan loved the sport. He went to all the wrestling practices he could, morning and night. If it wasn't for wrestling, he might have dropped out of school. It really allowed him to keep his head on straight."
Dylan had a great recovery from his tragic accident, but the career for the No. 2-ranked wrestler in Oregon was over. While his wrestling journey ended, the journey of Bailey Dennis was just beginning.
"It stopped being wrestling for me and started becoming wrestling for him," said Dennis. "I competed even harder and trained even harder. He couldn't wrestle anymore, so he really started to become my coach and was very picky about everything I was doing."
"Whenever I was too tired or made excuses, he always pushed me and made me go," she said. "He really keeps me calm in big matches or tournaments. I don't really know how to explain it."
"He has played a tremendous part in my wrestling career," said Dennis. "I would not have been as decorated if it wasn't for him. I would not have wanted to go to nationals and he always made me go and that made me much better."
As the years continued, with Dylan coaching her along the way, Dennis found her first real success in eighth grade, beating all boys to place first at districts, while also placing at both state and nationals.
Dennis continued to wrestle in high school, but found out quickly how tough the high school level was.
"I had a reality check and realized I could not muscle people around anymore," Dennis said. "I lost a ton of weight and wrestled pretty good the rest of the year."
"I found out there was a girls regional tournament and wrestled a girl for the first time in over three years of wrestling," she said.
She won the regional title and state title as a freshman and not only did it again as a sophomore, but became a national champion as well.
Dennis transferred from Ridgeview to Madras this year, her junior year, and has really found a home as a White Buffalo.
"I have better practice partners here, partners like Victor (Torres), Kody (Zemke) and Reece (White)," Dennis said. "I think it really has been better for me here. I am definitely going to stay here for my senior year."
With the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) only a handful of teams away from having women's wrestling being a sanctioned sport in college and six colleges in Oregon sponsoring women's wrestling, Dennis is still looking at different colleges to wrestle at the next level.
While Bailey's brother did miss school for a year, he still graduated on time and is now 19 years old. He is studying at Central Oregon Community College and has hardly ever missed any of his sister's tournaments.
Dennis will wrestle at the state tournament in Portland Feb. 22-23, looking to keep her state championship streak alive, while Dylan Dennis will be right next to her coaching and cheering her on.
"My goal is to win it again and be a three-time state and national champion," she said.