Tiger wrestling returns to the mat with high hopes
For the past few years, it's been close but no cigar for Newberg wrestling in the state championship. While the Tigers have built an elite program capable of bringing home the crown every season, Roseburg has been the winner of the past six consecutive 6A titles – the most recent of which a 263-256 victory over the second-place Tigers in March.
Now, with a handful of seniors graduated and plenty of young talent returning, Newberg hopes to unseat its rivals from southwest Oregon. Coach Neil Russo said he is optimistic about his team's chances.
"I'm as excited as I've ever been," Russo said. "We've got a bunch of kids coming back with quite a bit of experience. Many of them have experienced success in the past and we have five kids in the room who have been in the state finals at least one of the last two years – including a couple reigning champions."
While the Tigers graduated stalwart wrestlers Christopher Strange, Oliver Myers, Joey Moody and Jonah Worthington, the talent and depth they return rivals any team in the state.
Sophomores Sophia Redwine, Nicky Olmstead and Ayden Garver all won state championships in their individual weight classes last season, while sophomore Charlie Evans and junior Micah Worthington lost in their 2019 title bouts.
Plenty of other returning wrestlers qualified for state as well, adding to the depth and skill Newberg brings to the table this year.
"Losing a couple of those seniors, you can't replace those type of guys," Russo said. "We've got some kids that knew they'd have to fill those shoes and they're ready.
"Our biggest challenge is going to be to get everybody into the lineup because of our depth.
"We have 35 kids that could compete in a varsity lineup. We can't use all 35, so we're trying to work the schedule to where everyone gets meaningful matches and our lineup for districts and state begins to figure itself out as we go along."
Redwine will be the only girl wrestling for Newberg this season after winning the first OSAA girls state title in program history last year.
Russo said he expects Redwine to compete in the boys varsity lineup for plenty of Newberg's matches this year, while she maintains a full girls schedule as well.
Her experience – combined with that of her teammates who return with titles or title appearances under their belts – will be crucial for the Tigers this season as they try to make a run and continue building the program from the youth level on up.
"There's no substitute for having that experience and understanding the process of the state tournament," Russo said. "Nicky, Ayden and Charlie have been all over at big tournaments and had plenty of success. What they're going to have to figure out now is how to wrestle with a bullseye on their backs."
Newberg's team always has a bullseye on its collective back, but no team in the state has a bigger one than Roseburg – who Russo expects to be the state title favorite again this year.
Other teams he has his eye on include Sprague, Mountain View, West Linn and Sherwood, among others.
The Tigers' first match of the season is at 7 p.m. Dec. 11, when they travel to Forest Grove for a dual meet to open up the Pacific Conference schedule.
After that, Newberg will take part in the Rose City Championships Dec. 13-14 at Westview High School.
The first home meet for Newberg is at 7 p.m. Dec. 18 against Sherwood.
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