The Madras White Buffalo wrestling team returned from the state tournament in Portland Feb. 28-29, where they had three wrestlers standing on the podium in the end.
Three-time state champion Bailey Dennis had everything going right for her at the state tournament, pinning her first two opponents in under 1 minute and 30 seconds to reach the championship match. Bailey was looking to be a four-time state champion and had one last match to do it.
Dennis wrestled Olivia Robinson, of Glencoe, in the finals match, and both wrestlers took a patient approach, leaving the score tied at 0 at the end of the first period.
Dennis started on the bottom in the second round and quickly scored a one-point escape, taking a 1-0 lead at the end of the second period. Robinson was on the bottom in the third period and also earned a quick escape. Neither wrestler was able to score any points, and the match was sent into an extra sudden-death period, where whoever scored the first point won.
In the sudden-death period, both wrestlers continued their patient approach; neither wrestler wanted any mistakes in such a big match. Dennis was able to get a shot off, and it looked like she was going to become a four-time state champion, but after a bit of confusion by both wrestlers and coaches, the referee called a stalling call on Dennis before her takedown and awarded Robinson one point.
That one point ended the match, and Robinson became the 155-pound girls state champion, while, for the first time in her high school career, Dennis placed second.
"Bailey … that is why wrestling is the toughest sport in the world," head coach Brad Padgett said. "You have to go through some stuff like that to keep getting better, but at the same time, you don't have to. It is kind of like a paradox as a wrestler. Her career is not over, so she did not experience the last match of her life. Typically these types of things create a wave that cannot be stopped, and I mean, the college level needs to watch out.
"Bailey is going to be on a tear, and I think it will reset a mindset that is there, but also a mindset that will keep growing, climbing," he said. "She is a tough girl, and she is always wanting to be tougher, wrestle the toughest people. It is really inspiring. Obviously, that call did not go her way and did not go the way I wanted it to go either, but man, she was going to keep wrestling, and everyone saw what was going to happen. That takedown happened, so we all saw it could have been a win. But should of, could of, would of. You have to go for six minutes all the time and sometimes seven."
Bailey's sister Peyton Dennis, a freshman, was able to go 1-2 at the tournament, and the Madras girls team, who sent two wrestlers to the state tournament, tied for 15th place with Eagle Point, La Pine, North Salem and Oregon City, scoring 21 team points. Thurston girls (72) and Bend girls (66) took the top spots at state.
"Peyton was in the blood rounds and ended up falling a little short there, but man is she a little bulldog," Padgett said.
The Madras boys had two wrestlers reach the podium, as sophomore Reece White took third place and Kody Zemke placed fifth. Madras sent six boys to the state tournament.
White came into the tournament as the No. 5 seed and won his first match by a 15-0 technical fall. He wrestled the No. 3 seeded wrestler, Drew Swenson, of Cottage Grove, and was able to win a 3-0 decision to earn a spot in the semifinals.
White wrestled Miquel Niemi, of Tillamook, the No. 2 seed, and lost by fall in 19 seconds. White won his consolation semifinals match by fall at the 1:41 mark and was now in the third-place match. Niemi would go on to take second place for Tillamook.
White wrestled Jesse Jamison, of Sweet Home, in the third-place match; he was the No. 4 seed at the tournament. Jamison earned a quick takedown, but White was able to escape and take down Jamison to take a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period.
White started on the bottom, and Jamison was able to earn a two-point near fall, but was later called for stalling, and White was given a point. Near the end of the period, White secured another takedown and took a 6-4 lead heading into the last period.
The wrestlers started on their feet, and White earned another takedown. Jamison was able to earn an escape, but White held onto his lead until the final buzzer. White claimed bronze for the White Buffalos and scored 17.5 points for the team.
"Overall I made my goal," White said. "I wanted to take top three in every tournament, including state, and I achieved that goal. Overall, I think it went really well. Placing third was a great feeling because I lost to the three seed (Swenson) a few tournaments before that 5-3 and won that match 3-0. It was a very good feeling."
"Mostly, props to Kody (Zemke) for pushing me," White said about the hard work it took to get here. "There were times I wanted to slap him so hard, and there were times I wanted to hug and cry with him. He pushed me to the point to make me better and make me better as a human being. The goal for next year is to be the state champion and go on and on from there."
Zemke was the No. 7 seed at the tournament and won his first match by fall in 56 seconds. He faced the No. 2 seed, Nat Brown, of Elmira, in his second match and lost a 12-2 major decision.
Zemke won his next match by a 14-1 major decision, and his fourth match of the tournament in a close 4-2 decision. Zemke lost his consolation semifinals match by fall at the 3:59 mark and was now wrestling for fifth place.
The senior was matched up with No. 5 seed Luke Nelson, of Seaside, and took control of the match early. Zemke earned a takedown and earned two 3-point near falls to take a commanding 7-0 lead at the end of the first period. The second period was a stalemate, and the third and last round for both of the wrestlers was about to begin.
Zemke was on top and earned two 2-point near falls to take a 13-0 lead. Nelson was able to earn an escape and takedown at the end of the period, but it wasn't enough to beat Zemke, who earned fifth place, scoring 13 team points for Madras.
Once the match ended, Zemke sat down on both knees with tears in his eyes. He looked around the entire arena, taking everything in. His hand was raised and, still with tears in his eyes, he took a deep breath, realizing that the last wrestling match of his high school career had just ended. He gave his coaches one more big hug and walked off the mat for the last time.
"I came out here and was looking to go get first," Zemke said. "Coming out of districts, I went three rounds with the returning state champ and lost by a point. I had a lot of confidence coming in. First match went my way, second came out a little timid, didn't wrestle my game and ended up losing. The state tournament is a big show, a lot of pressure, and I didn't take it that well. I tried my hardest, but did not wrestle how I should have."
"After my last match, things just ran through my head about all the memories I have had in this sport," he said. "I almost quit my sophomore year. I didn't even come out until about a month in. I didn't really like the sport, and I finally started applying myself and realized this was my favorite sport. Ending on a win, it was a surreal moment. It really kept the good memories of the sport in me.
"The end is going to come quicker than you think and don't ever not put in your 100%," Zemke said, thinking about advice for younger wrestlers. "Work on the little things, and your mentality is more of it than you ever think it is. I want to thank all my coaches for all the love and support and my family."
Christopher Woodworth, of La Grande, the wrestler that beat Zemke in the district finals by one point, took first place at state for the second year. Woodworth won the state title by one point over Brown, of Elmira.
"All I saw was excellence and watching Reece's match, he peaked at the right time," Padgett said about the performances on day two of the tournament. "This was his best tournament all year. Obviously, he didn't win but taking third as a sophomore, he is going to come back in the room next year with a higher level of confidence and hopefully an expectation on how to improve, so he can keep climbing that podium to where he should be."
"Kody, you know, went through some tough emotions," he said. "Nobody really knows what that last match of your life feels like unless you are a wrestler and a high-level competitor. There are a lot of seniors who have their last match at districts, but to have your last match placing at state and actually winning, there is a flood of emotions that most people will never understand, grasp or hold onto. It is a very special thing in life, and Kody earned his spot on that podium. In his weight class, those top five guys, anyone could have finished anywhere. It is bittersweet losing Kody. I wish he was a sophomore like Reece, being able to know we have a state placer coming back in the room. I hope it is just motivation to the kids. Next year the expectation is, if you are here, you are going for a state medal."
Senior Orlando Torres (152) went 1-2 at the tournament, while Shain Beymer (220), Tom Kallenbach (145), and freshman Cael White (132) went 0-2 at state.
The Madras boys scored 32.5 points to tie for 19th place with Marshfield. La Grande (261) and Sweet Home (254.5) took first and second place.
"I am overall really proud of our team, the guys and the girls, and I think it will lead to something greater," Padgett said. "Eventually we will get the respect of the state. Eventually we will get up there, and I don't know when, but we will get there and have that respect and be known for wrestling at Madras High School."
Reece and Cael White, as well as Beymer, will be returning for the Buffalos next season.
"I hope these returning kids train in the off-season because off-season training is what makes in season champs," Padgett said. "We have some tough kids, but the thing we need to work on the most is belief. I am a beginning coach, and I am trying to instill that, but we will see it when the time comes."
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