Newberg walks away with third consecutive state title
SANDY -- In high school wrestling, it's all about the numbers. At its most basic it pits two competitors of equal weight for three, two-minute periods. The wrestler with the highest score at the end wins.
Newberg High's wrestlers were all about the number this weekend. The two-time defending Class 6A champions traveled to this berg east of Portland with 21 wrestlers that had qualified for state. Over the course of two days the Tigers amassed 391 points, perhaps a record for the school, before the finals on Sunday evening had even started.
Eleven Newberg wrestlers, also likely a school record, reached the finals via 36 pinfalls; six were crowned champion. The team amassed 418 points to crush second-place Sprague (220.5) and third-place Roseburg (163) and win its third consecutive state championship. Forty-nine schools competed in the 6A tournament.
Coach Neil Russo, now in his 24th year at the helm of the Tigers after taking over for coaching legend Tony Russo, his uncle, commented after the match that he believes Newberg had never won three straight state titles before despite earning 13 championships over the years.
The Tigers earned the state title by putting 17 wrestlers on the podium, with six earning individual titles: Isaac Hampton at 113 pounds; Zach Keinonen at 126 pounds; Ayden Garver at 145 pounds (his fourth state title); Charlie Evans at 152 pounds; Price Pothier at 160 pounds and Hudson Davis at 195 pounds.
Ethan Ritchie took second in the 120-pound weight class, as did Nicky Olmstead (132 pounds), Trae Frederick (145 pounds), Kyle Kelley (182 pounds) and Hayden Hampton (220 pounds). Gavin Korkeakowski and Brandon Smith placed third, Jacob Smith fourth and Dillon Le, Gus Amerson and Patrick Negra fifth.
Despite having already won the team title before the finals begin, Coach Russo saw no drop in enthusiasm from his athletes.
"No, we talk about it all the time being a little bit better in every round and in every tournament and they did a tremendous job," he said. "Eleven in the finals is unbelievable. I know our kids don't expect any different, but people that have been around wrestling know that is an unbelievable feat."
Russo added that 11 was the greatest number of wrestlers to qualify for the finals during his tenure, but he was unsure whether the point total was also a record.
"I don't know. I don't know how many we have and I don't know what the record is …," the weary coach said with a laugh. "We win by half a point or two hundred and a half, it doesn't matter to us, it's just a great team effort."
Fourteen wrestlers -- including champions Garver, Evans and Pothier â€“ will graduate out of the program this year, requiring Russo and his team of coaches to begin anew.
"We'll enjoy this and tomorrow morning we'll try to figure out how to put a line-up together for next year and get some kids ready to step in and fill some of these huge holes the senior class (is leaving)," said.
Continuing the winning tradition
NHS qualified nearly two dozen wrestlers for state after running over the field in the Pacific Conference districts last week.
The seniors on the team have never lost a dual meet in their four years of high school competition.
The Tigers have gone 91-0 in dual meets since the start of the 2018-19 season. That number would be higher if it weren't for Covid.
The Tigers have won multiple Oregon Classics, the state's unofficial dual meet championship, over the past four years.
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