In the immediate aftermath of his Class 5A state championship bout, Scappoose junior Cutter Sandstrom didn't have a whole lot of time to process what had just transpired on the mat.
As one of the final matches of the night along with his fellow 285-pound competitors from across all classifications, a sweat-drenched Sandstrom had about two minutes to confer with head coach Nick Byrd before getting whisked away to the podium for medal time.
Sandstrom could only faintly stomach a smile as the camera phones were quickly whipped out from the stands and photographers crowded together down in front to get shots of the state placers. Second place was not Sandstrom's primary goal. After turning a corner in his personal development as a grappler, Sandstrom became one of the best heavyweights in the state during his junior year. His world of potential turned into hard-earned production and raw results. As one of the more aggressive heavyweights in the state, Sandstrom was appointment viewing, a monster who turned matches into one-minute first period falls with heavy hands, balletic feet and pristine technique. He wanted a state crown, not a second-place medal. But Dallas' Ashten Brecht was a hell-bent beast and won the 285-pound state title match with a 7-1 decision over Sandstrom on Feb. 29 at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. The match lasted the full six minutes as Sandstrom stayed alive until the last whistle. But Brecht fought fire with fire. He got off shots on the Indian from the outset yet was strong enough and seasoned enought to thwart Sandstrom's advances and stall the Scappoose star out. Brecht simply was very vulnerable in any aspect. He, like Sandstrom, was well-rounded and aggressive. But Sandstrom felt like he didn't give Brecht his optimal outing. He was never fully able to get his game going.
"I didn't wrestle the best match I could and that's probably the worst part about it," Sandstrom said. "I've wrestled better in most of my matches this year. It was a goal of mine to win a state title, to win several of them, but I just came short."
Reluctantly, Sandstrom lowered his neck from the second-place pedestal and accepted the award he wanted to no part of. Still, as bummed as Sandstrom was, as much as the loss stung, his season was sensational. Sandstrom won 40 matches, a whopping 32 by pin, this year. He took the Northwest Oregon Conference district championship with ease, earned the second seed in the 5A bracket and pinned his first two state tourney opponents. The semifinal bout was an instant classic. Trailing Thurston's Brian Jenkins all match long, Sandstrom turned the tide with 10 seconds left and pulled out a 4-3 decision win.
"I didn't want my season to end then," Sandstrom said. "You have six minutes to give it your all, so why would I quit with a minute to go? I was so zoned out. I was just wrestling. I was so hungry, so ready to go. I hate losing. Who doesn't? It's hard to get back up, but I did. It felt amazing, especially since I lost in the semis last year terribly hard. It wasn't close at all, so this felt great."
Scappoose sophomore Bella Amaro finished her season in style, reaching the 125-pound state championship bout against Phoenix's Emma Truex. Amaro won her quarterfinal and semifinal clashes by fall before the four-time state champion Truex took the title by a 4-2 decision. Amaro completed the year with a scintillating 34-2 record and the respect of her male teammates who watched her attack the sport in the practice room with passion and zeal. Emma Jones won a consolation match for the Indians. Tess Conway and Ruby Gibson both qualified for state as well. With Truex out of the picture and Amaro on the rise, Sandstrom is expecting big things from his Indian teammate soon.
"She's going to win the next two state titles," Sandstrom said of Amaro. "I've never seen a girl work as hard as her. She's definitely one of the hardest workers in our (practice) room. She's an incredible wrestler who holds her own against every boy in our wrestling room, so it's great. She makes other people better and we're trying to make her better."
As a program, Scappoose placed ninth with 65 points. Senior star AJ DeGrande (120) placed fifth while freshman Anthony Comer (113) took sixth. Wyatt Anicker (132), Colton Frates (138), Trevor Jackson (152), Deacon Smith (170), Riyle Kauffman (182) and Brett Krieger (195) all won matches throughout the tournament and scored points for the Indians. The state showing capped another spectacular campaign for the Indians, who won the NWOC regular season dual meet championship. They'll lose standouts such as DeGrande, district champions who were consistently great during their time at Scappoose. But Comer, Sandstrom, Amaro and freshman star Trey Dieringer are all slated to return. However, it'll be hard to top this season's bumper crop lineup that mopped the floor with the district in just its second year at the 5A level.
"We haven't had a team like that in years," Sandstrom said. "I love every one of the guys. They're great people and hard workers. We have a lot of talent coming up still and they're only going to get better. We're losing a couple of important seniors, but there are going to be leadership roles and I can take on one."
This was Sandstrom's first state final. It was a completely new learning experience in all aspects. From how to warm up but not get too psyched in the staging area, to taking in the grand atmosphere that is the state title matches on Saturday night, everything was foreign yet awe-inspiring.
"It was pretty indescribable," Sandstrom said with a smile. "There were thousands of people watching you wrestle. It was something you'll never be able to feel again. It's amazing. Hopefully, I get the chance next year to come to get that first place."
As the last ones out on the mat, Sandstrom had to patiently wait his turn in the staging area, walking around with his headphones in, wandering around the bowels of the Coliseum just to breathe freely with rubbing elbows with his competition and mentally lock in. The sense of anticipation both in and around that ballroom turned waiting room is tangible.
"Honestly I didn't like it," Sandstrom said. "I think about it too much and get in my own head. That was one of the problems. I had a burst of confidence for about half an hour and then I was like 'Oh my God, what if that, what if this?' There are six kids walking back and forth. Everybody's looking, waiting to see when it's their time."
There was solace in the journey. And with a year left of high school wrestling, perhaps Sandstrom can follow Brecht's path. As a junior, the Dragon was the 285-pound runner up but rebounded as a senior to take out Sandstrom. Next season, Sandstrom will most likely be the favorite in his bracket, provided he can stay healthy and on track.
"I'm incredibly motivated," Sandstrom said. "This is going to be my last offseason and last 365 days of wrestling. I'm going to regret it if I don't do the extra stuff, so that's my motivation."
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