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A strong performance at districts puts Newberg in the driver's seat for a 6A title next week

TIGARD TIMES PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Sophomore Charlie Evans won the 132-pound title at the Pacific Conference district tourney on Saturday.

By blowing the doors off its opponents at the Pacific Conference district meet, the Newberg High School wrestling team re-asserted itself as one of the top squads in the state over the weekend. The Tigers won the Pacific Conference tourney with a team score of 530 – the next best team was Sherwood with 271 – and qualified 18 wrestlers for state competition.

If some of the five Tiger wrestlers who finished fourth in the conference tourney make it to state as wild cards, Newberg could send more than 20 wrestlers to Memorial Coliseum next week to try and capture the Class 6A crown. Powerhouse and perennial champion Roseburg is sending 16 from its conference tournament, awaiting the addition of a few wild cards of its own.

The number of wrestlers it's sending to state showcases Newberg's depth, coach Neil Russo said, and is a testament to the team's competitive desire.

"Every single kid we entered won matches and scored team points," Russo said. "We were 28 for 28 in that regard, which I don't believe we've ever done. It's hard enough to fill all the weight classes, so for every kid to contribute is outstanding.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Newberg's Connor O'Bryan secured first place in districts and will represent the Tigers at the state tournament Feb. 28-29 at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

"We were heavily favored going in and sometimes that's a difficult standard to live up to. When you talk to kids about out-wrestling their expectations and they're the No. 1 seed, that's a tough thing to do. We had 18 kids seeded in the top three and all 18 finished in the top three. That's completely unheard of."

The numbers are staggering, but not completely surprising given Newberg's dominance over opponents statewide this season. Its victories in league duals were consistently lopsided, so an upset in team points was unlikely in the Pacific Conference tournament.

Wrestlers who qualified for state based on their district performance – which required a top-three finish – include Sophia Redwine (106), Tanner Nicol (113), Nicky Olmstead (120), Harrison Womack (120), Ayden Garver (126), Boulder Friesen (126), Charlie Evans (132), Gideon Cole (132), Micah Worthington (138), Price Pothier (145), Gavin Korkeakoski (152), Hudson Davis (160), Cougar Friesen (160), Braden Baxter (170), Hayden Hampton (182), Hunter James (195), Alec Love (195) and Connor O'Bryan (285).

Four different weight classes had Newberg vs. Newberg in the conference championship match. Both wrestlers at 160 are freshmen and Russo said the lower weights are a sign of the team's true strength.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - NHS coach Neil Russo instructs a wrestler during the district tournament at Liberty High School on Saturday.

"The guys at 120 and 126 really exemplify our depth," Russo said. "We could've moved those kids around and given them opportunities to win district titles, but the state tournament is the ultimate goal and they're gonna help us better where they are. We have our eyes on the bigger prize and these four guys will be a big help in that."

A total of at least 17 boys and potentially one girl in Redwine will play their part in the state pursuit. After qualifying for both the girls' and boys' state championships, Russo said Redwine will decide this week which one she will participate in.

If Redwine wrestles on the girls' side, it will almost assuredly be the second of potentially four state titles for her. If she chooses to wrestle with the boys as she did in a successful Pacific Conference run, she will make history as the first girl to wrestle in the boys' state tournament for Newberg and will have an opportunity to contribute to the team's point total.

In the end, total points are what matters for the Tigers at state – and they will need a few individual titles in the process. They are likely to achieve a handful of top placers, but the most important points are often earned in the consolation rounds, Russo said.

That is why the potential addition of a few wild cards – along with Redwine's performance, should she choose to compete on the boys' side – will be key if Newberg wants to edge five-time defending champion Roseburg. Beating the reigning champs and edging out the likes of Mountain View, Sprague and West Linn will take a full team effort, Russo said.

"It's going to come down to who gets it done in consolations," he said. "We've all got outstanding individuals who have to do their part on the front side, but nobody is putting eight or 10 guys into the state finals. We put six in there last year and that formula just doesn't win you the tournament – you have to have kids grind through the consolation rounds and earn your team points, because that often ends up being the difference."

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