Making the journey to frigid Central Oregon, the Newberg High School wrestling team aimed once again to prove its mettle against top competition. After a weekend of dual meets in the Oregon Classic tournament in Redmond, the Tigers emerged as the champions of what coach Neil Russo described as the "state championship" of dual meets.
"It is certainly a big, red circle on our calendar," Russo said. "We try not to put too much stock in any one event over another, but everybody knows that this is the big one when it comes to dual meets. It was nice to come out of there victorious."
Newberg beat five-time defending state champion Roseburg in the final, 51-21. It was a convincing result for the No. 1-ranked Tigers over the No. 2 Indians after coming up just a few points short of a state title last February.
Coach Neil Russo and his squad are hoping this match is a preview of the 2020 state championships. The way they wrestled and fed off each other's victories is encouraging, Russo said.
A few teams didn't show up to the tournament due to weather and travel concerns around the state, but the tournament still drew the undisputed top two teams in 6A to town. Russo said he told his team and their fans that Newberg was there to wrestle one team – Roseburg – and the Indians likely felt the same about the Tigers.
A 51-21 is dominant against a program with the depth and talent of Roseburg. It began with a victory for Sophia Redwine at 106 pounds and carried on from there.
"Wrestling is an individual sport, but the dual meet format is different not only because it's a team event but because of the momentum involved," Russo said. "We got on a roll there from 138 to 160 and it was pretty impressive – we got falls at all of those weights and the kids were truly feeding off each other.
"Sophia is hard to beat at 106 pounds. She had a 6-0 win and really set the tone for the entire dual meet. She wrestles hard all the time and is really good in the positions she gets to. The kids feed off of that and she kicked off the momentum for us in that meet."
Russo said Redwine should have an opportunity to wrestle in qualifiers for both the girls' and boys' state championships, but if she qualifies for both she will have to choose one. If she chooses to compete on the boys' side, her performance will count towards the Tigers' state championship point total, adding to the depth the team already brings to the table.
That depth was on full display in the Oregon Classic as nearly all of Newberg's top wrestlers went undefeated. Nicky Olmstead, Ayden Garver, Micah Worthington, Charlie Evans and Price Pothier were among those leading the way, joined by Gavin Korkeakoski, Hudson Davis and Hunter James among others. Newberg's talent across weight classes proved too much for its opponents in Redmond.
"When you have seven, eight kids go undefeated on a weekend, you're typically going to have success," Russo said with a chuckle. "All of our kids wrestled really well and I couldn't be more proud of them. We'll celebrate this for a couple of days before we get back to work."
Newberg has a dual meet against Century on Thursday, participates in the Tournament of Champions at Liberty on the weekend of Jan. 31 and faces Liberty in a dual meet on Feb. 6. The district tournament is on Feb. 14 and 15, which will determine how many wrestlers the Tigers send to the state championships on Feb. 28 and 29.
"Leading up to the Oregon Classic, we call that our dual meet season," Russo said. "Now, we will shift that focus and start looking at a tournament lineup, which will involve kids changing weight classes and moving around to best serve the team. We want as many qualifying as possible.
"Our 14 were better than (Roseburg's) 14, and now we have to find out how to get our 28 better than their 28 in late February. We might have poked the bear a little bit, but we'll see what happens."
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