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The Tigers are facing top competition from around the state and country as the season progresses

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - A Newberg High School wrestler subdues hisr opponents during the school's own Earl Gillis Invitational on Friday at home. The Tigers defeated Cleveland, David Douglas and Sweet Home to take home the tournament title.

Searching for ways to give its athletes the best competition possible, the Newberg High School wrestling team has been all over the region facing top opponents on the mat. More often than not, the Tigers are emerging victorious, adding the glory of victory to the necessity of development.

"The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind," NHS coach Neil Russo said. "We hosted our tournament on Friday and wrestled three dual meets against some great teams. Cleveland, David Douglas and Sweet Home were tough and we are close to full strength now. Our lineup is rounding into shape."

The Tigers won their home tournament handily over some of the tougher teams from around the state. After Sweet Home upset Thurston, the Tigers faced Sweet Home in the championship match of the Earl Gillis Invitational at NHS and won.

Prior to that, Newberg wrestled against Glencoe last Thursday. The Crimson Tide put up a solid fight but lost 61-12 to the Tigers in a Pacific Conference dual meet.

"There were three or four really competitive matches that I thought were key," Russo said. "Sophia Redwine wrestled at 113 and beat a returning state qualifier, Gavin Korkeakoski beat a kid who beat him last year and Hudson Davis got a good win at 170. Within those matches there are individual matchups that have importance down the road, and those were some big ones."

Redwine continues to compete with and beat top competition on the girls' and boys' side, finding her place in the team's varsity lineup while dominating the competition in girls' matches. Performances from Newberg's more experienced wrestlers have carried them in dual meets as well, Russo said.

In order to get everyone the experience they needed, Russo split the team up between two tournaments during the first week of January.

Roughly half of the team went to the Don York tournament at Cleveland High School – where the team emerged victorious – while the rest traveled to Kent, Wash., for a national tournament that featured 70 teams from around the country.

"Our biggest challenge is getting all our kids into the lineup and getting quality matches for kids who aren't regularly in the lineup," Russo said. "One of the solutions was to split them that weekend and the team we sent to Cleveland won the tournament anyway."

The group that traveled to Washington had a handful of wrestlers on the podium in a highly competitive tournament. In the "Gut Check" tournament, Charlie Evans placed seventh, Nicky Olmstead fourth, Hunter James sixth and Ayden Garver won the tournament at 126 pounds against top national competition.

"The kid (Garver) beat in the final was a prep school national kid from New Jersey," Russo said. "They had nine kids in the finals and they have kids from all over the country who go there to wrestle. For our kids to compete and beat wrestlers like that is incredibly impressive."

Newberg has another league dual match on Wednesday night against rival McMinnville – scheduled for 7 p.m. at NHS – before heading off to Redmond for the all-important Oregon Classic tournament. Russo dubbed the tourney the "state championship for dual meets" and said the program puts extra importance on winning it.

The Oregon Classic also provides an opportunity for Russo and his assistant coaches to get a look at some of the top individual wrestlers in the state – a key opportunity for scouting in advance of the state championships down the road.

For now, however, Russo said he and the team are focused on one match at a time and are looking to continue improving while they rack up victories.

"We've always got stuff to work on, but we're getting every kid tested and giving them good matches," Russo said. "Everyone in our program has been beat and that's by design. We want to allow them to test themselves and face top wrestlers every week."

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