What a difference a year can make.
And, for Cameron O'Connor, this year was the best.
O'Connor, a Tigard High School senior, after placing fifth at 113 pounds at last year's Class 6A state wrestling tournament, stepping things up a notch this year, reaching the 113 finals at this year's Class 6A state wrestling tournament, held Friday and Saturday at Portland's Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
O'Connor, in the 113-pound state championship match, lost a 7-1 decision to top-seeded West Linn junior Ricky Bell, but he still had a big smile on his face after receiving his second-place medal.
"A state championship would have been the best thing, but this is the second-best thing," O'Connor said. "This is great. I wanted to be a state champ, but second is not too bad. It was a big jump from last year. I think I just wrestled tougher, and got better at positions. I went out with a different mindset this year."
For the Tigers, who had five competitors at the state event, senior Johnny Nomani also earned a spot on the award stand, placing sixth at 285.
O'Connor, who entered the state tournament as the No. 7 seed at 113 pounds, opened the event by getting a 16-0 technical fall win over Cleveland's Nakoa Flores in a first-round match. In the second round, O'Connor pinned Newberg's Tanner Nicol in a time of 1 minute, 28 seconds.
In the quarterfinals, O'Connor stepped up to pin Centennial's Jake Angelovic, the No. 2 seed, in 1:21.
In the semifinals, O'Connor faced a familiar foe, when he took on Cleveland junior Elija Fishler, the No. 6 seed. Last year, Fishler got a 2-0 decision win over O'Connor in a state tournament consolation semifinal match. But this year would be different.
O'Connor grabbed a 2-0 lead with a takedown coming with 54 seconds left in the first round. Fishler came back with an escape with 21 seconds left in the period, making the score 2-1.
The second round was scoreless. The third round was also scoreless, until O'Connor was whistled for a stalling call, coming with just two seconds left in the match, tying the score at 2-2.
"It's alright," O'Connor said of the call. "I was stalling a little bit, because I knew there were wasn't much time left. But, it is what it is. It was a stall call."
The match went to overtime, where O'Connor won, getting a takedown with 22 seconds left in the 1-minute period.
"I knew he'd be coming at me, because he wanted it too, but I wanted it more," O'Connor said. "I just finished my shot. I've never been a state finalist before, and it's awesome. I'm really happy. I lost to that kid in the consolation semifinals last year. This year, I went all out, and now I'm a state finalist."
In the finals, O'Connor faced another familiar opponent in Bell, who defeated O'Connor in the Three Rivers League district tournament finals two weeks earlier.
In the state championship bout, Bell took a 2-0 lead with a takedown coming with 1:47 left in the first round. O'Connor was given a penalty point, after Bell used an illegal hold, with 0:10 left in the opening period, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Bell came back with a takedown in the second round, giving him a 4-1 lead going into the final round. Bell scored another takedown with 1:36 left in the third round, and then O'Connor picked up a stalling call with 0:11 remaining, making the final 7-1.
"We've wrestled three times in high school. I've won once, and he's won twice. It is what it is. But he's such a nice guy. I love him," O'Connor said of Bell. "Wrestling in the finals was amazing. I can't explain it. It's cool having the entire crowd watching you. It's great to be out there with the best kids in the state, wrestling for a title."
The state championship match also wrapped up O'Connor's four-year stint wrestling for the Tigers.
"It meant a ton to me. I couldn't have thought of a better place to wrestle," said O'Connor, who went 34-6 in his senior season. "This tournament was a blast. Getting to the finals for the first time was amazing, and knocking off kids that were seeded ahead of me, and beating kids I've never beaten before was cool."
Nomani opened the tournament by getting a 16-1 technical fall victory over Gresham's Kyle Asberry. He then lost a close 5-3 decision to Newberg's Connor O'Bryan in the second round. Nomani bounced back strong, winning four straight consolation bracket matches, two by fall. Nomani then lost his final two matches, including another close decision, 7-5, to South Salem's Julian Ortiz, putting him in sixth place.
"It means a lot. Anything I could get, to show the Tigard pride, was good," said Nomani, who went 43-8 on the season. "It was a good wrestling season, a good record. I was just trying to do the best I could here. This season was really fun, bonding with the guys and everything. I'm going to miss the coaches, and the guys, of course."
Tigard freshman Chase Dennis went 2-2 at 132 pounds at the state tournament. Senior Zack Vorvick went 2-2 at 145, and sophomore Atticus Waddell went 1-2 at 106.
The Tigers finished in 13th place in the team standings with 57 points. Newberg won the Class 6A state team championship with a score of 310.5. Roseburg was second at 262.5.
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