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Wrestling team aims to qualify as many athletes as possible for the state championships

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - NHS coach Neil Russo says his ultimate goal is to put two wrestlers in every weight class at districts this weekend to earn as many sports as possible for state.

With victories at the Reser's Tournament of Champions and a dual meet against Liberty out of the way, the Newberg High School wrestling team has its sights set on the Pacific Conference district tournament this weekend. The tournament presents an opportunity for the Tigers to qualify a slew of wrestlers for state and they plan to enter two wrestlers for every weight class in districts – a total of 28 on the mat.

"We've been zeroing in on these final few weeks since the very beginning," NHS coach Neil Russo said. "We want to be our best every time out, get better every day we're in the (training) room or on the mat, but this is the ultimate goal. We don't put a premium on any one event other than the Oregon Classic, and we were able to win that, so that gives us confidence."GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Newberg made quick work of Liberty last week in anticipation of districts this weekend.

Newberg's top wrestlers include sophomore Sophia Redwine and senior Tanner Nicol at 113 pounds; junior Harrison Womack at 120; sophomore Nicky Olmstead and freshman Patrick Negra at 126; junior Ayden Garver at 132; junior Boulder Friesen at 138; senior Gideon Cole at 145; sophomores Charlie Evans, Price Pothier junior Micah Worthington at 152; sophomores Gavin Korkeakoski and Kyle Kelley at 160; freshman Cougar Friesen at 170; freshman Hudson Davis and senior Braden Baxter at 182; junior Alec Love and senior Hunter James at 195, and junior Connor O'Bryan at 285.

Some wrestlers could shift weight classes in the district and state tournament based on team needs, Russo said, but most have been wrestling at their current weights for the majority of the season. It's all been an effort to prepare for the big matches at districts and state.

"We're going to try and get two bodies in every weight class," Russo said. "In some places that means moving some kids up and down, but for the most part we've had a solid plan for the last few months about who will end up where. Our goal is to put the best 28 kids in that district tournament and we challenge them to see how many points they can score and potentially wrestle each other in the final. We have 28 kids that can all score at districts and you hope to get a huge chunk of them qualifying for state."

Russo said he believes some of the less experienced or well-known guys on the team will "surprise people" in districts and potentially win their weight class or qualify for state. One known quantity on the team is Redwine, who will be the only girl competing for the Tigers in the boys' qualifier after winning the girls' competition last week.

She is qualified on the girls' side and is largely expected to repeat as a state champion, but a new opportunity exists for Redwine this year. If she qualifies for the boys' state championships, she can choose to forgo the girls' side and contribute to the team's point total as it pursues a state title.

"Ultimately it's going to be her decision," Russo said. "She wants very much to contribute to what we're trying to do on the boys' side, but she also has an opportunity to win the second of what could be four state titles for her career on the girls' side. I will support her in whatever she decides to do – I just really wish she could wrestle in both and so does she."

Newberg submitted its roster for districts on Sunday night and the coaches from around the Pacific Conference will draw up the brackets on Wednesday. Pacific Conference district competition will take place on Friday and Saturday at Liberty High School.

When the dust settles on Saturday, Newberg is hoping to send as many wrestlers as possible to Memorial Coliseum to try and dethrone five-time defending champion Roseburg – a team the Tigers beat handily in a dual meet earlier this season.

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