Tigers finish a close second at state
PORTLAND — In the dimly lit corridors of Memorial Coliseum, wrestlers prepared to take the stage. Some sprinted up and down the extended hallways, while others jumped up and down in sweatshirts and sweatpants, jerking their necks from side to side and shaking the nerves out of their fingertips.
The harsh glare of the overhead lights was disorienting for some as they exited the tunnel toward competition. Once their eyes adjusted, a line of six mats stretched from one end of the concrete basin to the other. On mat four was Newberg's first championship bout of the night: freshman Nicky Olmstead against West Linn's Ricky Bell.
Like he did in every other match of the state tournament, Olmstead pinned his opponent and emerged victorious – the first of four individual state titles won by Newberg on Saturday as it finished second as a team behind Roseburg.
"Nicky was just outstanding and he has been all year long," NHS coach Neil Russo said. "He's got more falls than anyone has ever had in a season in this program, and he pinned his way through the state tournament by scoring more points than anyone in that building."
The Tigers scored 256 team points, trailing the Indians by just seven in the end. It was the sixth consecutive 6A title for Roseburg and the second consecutive year that the difference was slim between them and Newberg.
"When you walk out disappointed to get second – even as close as we were – I think that says a lot about the expectations of your program," Russo said. "To Roseburg's credit, they got it done in consolations and that ended up being the difference."
Newberg had six boys in the finals of their respective weight class along with freshman Sophia Redwine on the girls' side. At 100 pounds, Redwine won the first OSAA-recognized girls title in state history and the first in program history. She did so by 6-0 decision against Emma Baertlein of Oregon City.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Redwine's historic performance didn't count toward the overall team score. It would have helped, too, as Russo's boys faced the prospect of needing to win five of their six championship bouts in order to guarantee a team title.
Winning three was no small feat, though. Freshman Ayden Garver followed up Olmstead's performance by defeating Roseburg's Nash Singleton in overtime at 113 pounds. Displaying minimal emotion throughout the match, he flexed his right arm as the official held up his left to declare him the victor.
"Ayden is a special athlete," Russo said. "His facial expression never changes, he never panics and he always remains calm. When you're in overtime in the state finals as a ninth grader, you should probably be a little bit shaken, but he wasn't."
Newberg faced some adversity in the matches following Garver's victory. Senior Christopher Strange lost to Cleveland's Jontae Hardaway at 120 pounds, Sherwood's Gaven Jolley beat Newberg sophomore Micah Worthington at 126, and Centennial's Phillip Kue handled freshman Charlie Evans at 132.
After remaining in the same spot for five consecutive matches to start the night – an impressive feat for the program – Russo took a break before returning to coach Newberg's final match: Senior Oliver Myers against Romeo Manue of David Douglas at 182 pounds.
The bout ended up being a power struggle – literally. Manue and Myers, displaying muscular builds beyond their years, wrestled to a virtual stalemate well into the overtime period.
Finally, after some outstanding wrestling that saw neither competitor give an inch, Myers put Manue on his back in overtime, scoring a takedown that gave him a state title. He stood and let out a roar toward the crowd, showing off the biceps that helped him achieve an undefeated record on the season.
Russo embraced Myers after the match with tears in his eyes. Afterwards, he called it one of the highlights of his coaching career, lauding the effort of Myers throughout his historic senior season.
"Those were two of the most physically impressive kids in the building," Russo said of Manue and Myers. "Oliver was in a battle from the start of that tournament. He's pretty well put together, but it seemed like everyone he wrestled was right there with him."
When the sounds of cheers, whistles and bodies hitting the mat disappeared from the arena, the Tigers were seven points short of their goal. Strange said it was one of his personal goals to get a team title before he graduated, but it never happened. Still he maintained perspective, even in personal and team defeat, pointing to the future of the program.
"We have tons of new, fresh talent that is coming into Newberg wrestling," Strange said. "It's exciting to know that I can come back and watch that in the future."
Three freshmen were state finalists this season – two of them champions. Russo said that gives him confidence going into the 2019-2020 campaign, which starts with workouts in the spring and will stretch into next February.
"When you look back on a season like that, it's pretty impressive," her said. "I'm really happy for these kids and am extremely thankful for the support we get from the community. We're young and we're going to be back."