West Linn wrestlers battle to fifth at Class 6A state tournament
The West Linn wrestling team rode the rollercoaster at state this year.
The Lions, competing in the Class 6A state tournament — held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 28-29, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum — crowned two state champions and saw another wrestler finish second, but also missed out on some additional chances to score and finished fifth for a second straight season.
"We choked really hard day one, but still, we did phenomenal this year," said West Linn junior Cael Brunson, who won the state championship at 152 pounds for his second straight 6A crown. "We were so close to a trophy — we haven't had a trophy since 2011 and we were so close — but we had a lot of guys that went 0-2 that are going to do a lot better next year. … Next year is definitely the year."
"If we can get some of those guys to win a couple of matches next year, and all the rest of us perform like we did this year — the ones that did good — then we should be locking up a top finish," said West Linn freshman Justin Rademacher, who placed second at 160.
Despite those missed opportunities, the Lions loved their time at state and the chance to wrestle and compete again.
"I'm so happy with how our team has done this year," said West Linn junior Ricky Bell, who won his first state title at 113 this season. "We are best friends and family and we're just performing to the best of our ability and I'm so proud of how we ended up this year. The team camaraderie just makes it all worth it."
The Lions finished the tournament with 160 points and trailed just Newberg (310.5), Roseburg (262.5), Mountain View (209.5) and Sprague (176.5) in the tournament standings.
Bell, the top-seeded wrestler at 113, was unstoppable along the way to his title, opening with a forfeit, then notching three straight pins — against Glencoe senior Hunter Nakamoto, Roseburg junior Kaden Schlatter and fifth-seeded Jefferson freshman Khtrelle Preston — to earn his berth in the championship.
"(The key was) my positions and staying loose," said Bell, who finished second a year ago. "Last year, I would get caught up in the moment and tense up, but this year, I let it all fly. I didn't hold on to small leads, I just went for it. I just had a one-track mind and I felt really good."
In the title match, Bell ran into a familiar opponent — seventh-seeded Tigard senior Cameron O`Connor, the Tigers' career wins leader and the runner-up from the Three Rivers League district tournament.
Bell, who beat O'Connor just 7-5 in the TRL finale, was even better this time, getting a takedown to lead 2-1 after the first round, adding another takedown to lead 4-1 after two, then tacking on another takedown and a penalty point to beat O'Connor 7-1.
"It feels great. It's everything I've worked for four years," Bell said. "I put in so much work into this, it's just the most fulfilling moment I've ever had in my life. I've never even dreamed of anything like this. I never thought it would be this good. This is the best I've ever felt in my life."
Brunson followed suit with his win at 152 — he was state champion at 145 in 2019 — opening the tournament with three straight wins, then taking his semi 9-5 and the championship 3-2. Brunson's pins came against South Medford junior Lucas Rivera, Benson junior Max Schroeder, and eighth-seeded Mountain View sophomore Sayre Williamson, followed by a 9-5 decision over fourth-seeded Aloha senior Colton Fleming in his semifinal.
"I didn't try to cut weight at all this year so I had to adapt all year to people that were stronger," Brunson said. "My one loss early in the year at the Rose City was to a guy who was just so much stronger, so that's what I had to work against this year."
That set the table for his 3-2 title win over sixth-seeded Roseburg senior Tristin David (he upset second-seeded Mountain View senior Carson Fassett in his semi) in the championship, a match that couldn't have been much closer.
After a scoreless first round, David notched an escape six seconds into the second period and led 1-0 heading into the third. But there, Brunson tied the score with an escape 16 seconds into the round and set the stage for the dramatic finale.
With the score still tied 1-1 and the third round in its final 25 seconds, David attempted a takedown but was left holding just Brunson's left foot. Brunson turned back around David, worked his foot free and scored a takedown with just 17 seconds remaining. David broke free with six seconds to go to cut his deficit to 3-2, but Brunson ran out the clock to win.
"That was way too scary, too close," Brunson said. "He was insanely strong. I feel like, technically, he was just average, but he was so strong and that's one of the hardest things for me to deal with."
The narrow nature of his win made it even sweeter for Brunson.
"It feels pretty good," he said. "I'm going to go home — my friends that are in college came down to see me and I get to see them so I'm excited — so I'll go home and eat a lot of food."
While Rademacher fell short in his bid to become a freshman state champion, he was very, very good along the way and showed his incredible potential. The third seed after winning the TRL, Rademacher opened with a bye, then pinned Summit sophomore Andrew Johnson, beat sixth-seeded Lakeridge junior Ryan Boucher 7-4 in his quarterfinal, and pinned seventh-seeded Newberg freshman Cougar Friesen (he upset second-seeded Roseburg senior Colin Rietmann in his quarterfinal) in the semifinals.
"I wrestled pretty good," Rademacher said. "My first match, I put him away pretty fast, then I wrestled the kid I wrestled at district in the finals in my second match and I kept my composure and I didn't give him anything, and then I pinned my semifinal match."
That set up the title match against fourth-seeded Sprague sophomore Brook Byers — a wrestler Rademacher had beaten earlier in the year at the Rose City Championships. But Byers held the upper hand this time, notching a takedown and a nearfall to lead 4-0 after one round, adding a reverse and a nearfall in the second to push ahead 9-0, then making it 11-0 in the third before Rademacher got an escape and a takedown in his eventual 14-3 loss.
"He was good at tilts, he was turning me (and) I gave him a lot of points that I shouldn't have," Rademacher said. "You've got to stay a lot more disciplined against bigger guys. They're usually a lot stronger than me, but I can wrestle with them."
Among the other Lion placewinners at state:
• Fourth-seeded sophomore Andrew Shelofsky placed fourth at 106 after going 4-2 at state, his losses coming to top-seeded Sprague sophomore Brayden Boyd (the eventual state champion) in the semifinals and to third-seeded Centennial freshman Mason Belles in the third-place match.
• Fourth-seeded sophomore Ethan Goff finished fifth at 120 after going 4-2, his losses coming to top-seeded Sprague senior Noah Worthington (the eventual runner-up) in the semifinals and to seventh-seeded Grants Pass junior Josef Miner in the consolation semifinals; he got a forfeit win over second-seeded Newberg sophomore Nicky Olmstead to secure his fifth-place finish.
"The first day, I felt great. I felt like I was on my game and … everything was flowing well," Goff said. "The second day, I got in my head a little bit, but I mean, it happens."
Four other West Linn wrestlers reached the quarterfinals, but failed to place — seventh-seeded junior Cole Peters at 170, sixth-seeded junior Cade Miller at 182, fourth-seeded sophomore Cobie Daly at 195, and senior Joe Betty at 285.
The complete team scoring Included: 1. Newberg 310.5; 2. Roseburg 262.5; 3. Mountain View 209.5; 4. Sprague 176.5; 5. West Linn 161.0; 6. Sherwood 95.0; 7. Century 91.5; 8. Westview 89.0; 9. Grants Pass 85.0; 10. Oregon City 83.0; 11. Aloha 66.5; 12. Centennial 65.0; 13. Tigard 57.0; 14. McMinnville 54.0; 15. Cleveland 53.5; 16. Mountainside 52.5; 17. Clackamas 49.0; 18. David Douglas 47.0; 19. North Medford 46.5; 20. Reynolds 41.0; 21. Canby 37.0; 21. Jefferson 37.0; 21. Tualatin 37.0; 24. Sandy 34.0; 25. Bend 30.0; 26. Forest Grove 28.0; 27. West Salem 27.0; 28. South Salem 20.0; 28. Sunset 20.0; 30. Gresham 18.0; 30. McKay 18.0; 32. Barlow 16.0; 33. Glencoe 14.5; 34. Lakeridge 14.0; 34. Liberty 14.0; 36. Grant 11.0; 37. South Eugene 10.0; 37. South Medford 10.0; 37. Wilson 10.0; 40. McNary 9.0; 40. Sheldon 9.0; 42. Southridge 8.0; 43. Beaverton 5.0; 43. Summit 5.0; 45. Roosevelt 1.0.
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