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By René Ferrán 

During the typical week before the OSAA wrestling state championships, Newberg coach Neil Russo pores over brackets, doping out how the Class 6A tournament might play out.

This week, though, Russo had bigger worries to tend to — figuring out how his Tigers would make the 25-mile journey to Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum through ice-covered roads, where they would stay and whether they could get another night on their hotel rooms. 

“In a way, that’s a little bit of a relief,” Russo said after Saturday’s opening day of the two-day tournament, which saw his team trailing West Linn by four points in its bid for a fourth consecutive 6A state title. “It takes some of that stress off, but it’s still stressful nonetheless.” 

A year ago, Newberg ran away and hid from the rest of the field, putting 17 wrestlers on the podium and winning six individual titles out of 11 finalists.

This time, the Tigers have nine wrestlers advancing to Sunday’s final day of action, which starts with the consolation semifinals at 9 a.m., followed immediately by the placement matches (including the championship finals).

West Linn advanced 13 wrestlers to the medal rounds, including five finalists to Newberg’s four. The difference came down to the 126-pound semifinals, where Lions sophomore Oscar Doces knocked off Tigers freshman (and Reser’s Tournament of Champions winner) Gavin Rangel 6-3. 

“I’m at a loss for words,” said Doces, who missed placing at state by one round last year when he attended Ida B. Wells. “Today, I just wanted to (work hard) and not give up ever. We came in here to win against Newberg.” 

There are two finals that will match Newberg and West Linn wrestlers and could play a critical role in whether the Lions can win their first team title. Tigers sophomore Gus Amerson and Lions junior Charles Spinning will reprise their Reser’s TOC final in the 145 title match, and Newberg senior Hudson Davis goes for his third state title in the 195 final against West Linn senior Ben Winjum.

“It’s always an emotional roller coaster in this building,” Russo said. “We had some good things happen today and some not-so-good things happen, but we’re in a fight. We’ll focus on us and trying to get some guys right and see what we can do tomorrow.”

In the consolation semifinals, Newberg’s Dillon Le and West Linn’s Josh Abarca will meet at 138, and two other weight classes could have wrestlers from each school meet in a third- or fifth-place match.

Westview sits third after the first day of competition, with Southwest district rivals Grants Pass and Roseburg tied for fourth, a half-point ahead of Sandy.

The only top seed not to reach the finals was Sprague senior heavyweight Cole Steketee, who was disqualified from his quarterfinal match against Sherwood’s Skyler Randlemen-Galvan when match officials ruled that he threw a punch while executing a move.

Class 5A

Thurston holds the lead entering the final day of matches by 13 points over Redmond, with the Colts bidding for their first team title and the Panthers seeking their first since 1959. 

The Colts advanced eight wrestlers to Sunday morning’s finals, including returning champions Kolton Malone at 145 and Vaun Halstead, who dropped from 220 to 195 and recorded three pins.

Halstead’s move avoided a possible final against Crater senior Hayden Walters, who will bid for a fourth title Sunday. While fans would have enjoyed seeing two of the state’s best wrestle in a final, Halstead and his coaches looked at the bigger picture.

“Looking at the whole team, it is a much better fit for me to wrestle at 195,” Halstead said. “To have the success that we’re having right now — I mean, eight finalists, that’s pretty cool. If this were a tournament like Reser’s or Rose City, I’d be more than happy to wrestle him. But we wanted to stack the odds in our favor, and wrestling someone as high caliber as Hayden is just not a smart game plan going into state.”

Walters, who recently returned from a dislocated right wrist, wrestled with the wrist wrapped in thick gauze but hardly looked worse for wear, recording two pins and a 17-6 semifinal victory over Dallas’ Eli Nava to move within one win of joining the four-time state champions club.

“I think it’ll hit me tonight, going to bed, waking up, getting ready for tomorrow,” Walters said. “But right now, it’s still just kind of setting in.”

Two of Walters’ former teammates at Crescent Valley, DJ Gillett at 138 and Daschle Lamer at 170, also moved to within one victory of becoming four-time state champions — both doing so with three first-period pins.

“I’m always nervous coming to the state tournament,” said Lamer, who would join brothers Legend and Chance as a four-timer. “But I just trust my training, trust my conditioning. At this point, I’m feeling great, feeling fast, and I’m ready to win that fourth state title tomorrow.”

A third Crescent Valley wrestler, junior Everest Sutton, saw his dreams of becoming a four-time champion ended in sudden fashion in the 113 semifinals by Redmond sophomore Ryder Lee.

Sutton pinned Lee in 35 seconds in last year’s 106 quarterfinals en route to his second title. That defeat remained fresh in Lee’s mind when he took the mat, and in just 72 seconds, he had his revenge and a spot in the final against defending champion Elijah Bayne of Crater.

“It’s revenge for my teammate (Billy Jackson), too, because he got pinned by him in the final,” Lee said. “I just wanted to come out there, I had nothing to lose, and punch my way into the finals, and I did it.”

Jackson reached the final at 120, one of four Panthers to reach the finals and nine who will wrestle for medals Sunday.

Dylan Lee, who won a state title for Redmond last year but transferred across town to Ridgeview for his senior year, rallied in the final seconds against top seed Ethan Ensrud of Canby to earn a 10-8 victory in the semifinals. Lee scored a reversal with four seconds left and two near-fall points as the final whistle sounded.

In the final, he’ll face Mountain View’s Jackson Potts in what would have been the district final last week, except Lee forfeited the match after suffering a right collarbone injury in the quarterfinals.

“I wrestled one more match with one arm to qualify, and then I went to the emergency room,” Lee recalled. “I’m just grateful that I’m here. Today and tomorrow, my mentality is just no pain.”

Potts is one of three Cougars in the finals and eight medalists as they look to make up a 52-point deficit on Thurston. Crater (122 points) and Dallas (112) also are in the trophy hunt.

Class 6A/5A Girls

Two of the pioneers of girls wrestling in Oregon romped through two matches Saturday as they prepare to close their careers where they started.

West Linn senior Destiny Rodriguez is one win from becoming the second girl to win four Oregon state titles, and Cleveland’s Haley Vann will seek her third title Sunday morning.

Haley Vann Destiny Rodriguez

Both Rodriguez, who spent a combined 88 seconds on the mat in reaching the 155 final, and Vann, who needed 113 seconds to advance to the 130 final, reflected on how quickly their careers zipped by.

“It’s just crazy to think we had our last practice yesterday, and I was like, this is it,” Rodriguez said. “It was sad having it be our last practice and this be my last tournament with the guys on this team, because I’m really close with most of them.”

“My mindset is that this is my last go at it before college,” Vann added. “I’m just excited for what’s after this, but also try to savor the moment as it is.”

Vann also earned a qualifying berth in the 6A boys meet after placing third at the PIL district championships, but never for a second did she consider forgoing a chance at a third state title.

“I wanted to challenge myself in that way,” she said. “But I like to think of myself as an inspiration to others, so that’s a really big thing for me here.”

While Rodriguez is a one-girl team at state, Vann has two teammates alive in the consolation bracket. Still, the Warriors are well behind in the team race, which North Medford leads with 61 points, six more than defending champion Forest Grove.

The Black Tornado and Vikings each have three wrestlers in Sunday’s finals, with North Medford also having three in the consolation semifinals (only the top four medal) and Forest Grove having one.

McKay, which qualified a meet-high nine wrestlers, has one finalist and six alive in the consolation round in its bid to win a first title.

Meet the champions: Class 4A | Class 3A | Class 2A/1A | Class 4A/3A/2A/1A Girls

Photos from 4A, 3A, 2A/1A, 4A/3A/2A/1A Girls state championship matches

Wrestlers to watch at state: Freshmen | Sophomores | Juniors | Seniors

Previewing the state meets: 6A | 5A | 4A | 3A | 2A/1A | 6A/5A Girls | 4A/3A/2A/1A Girls

Recapping the district meets: 6A | 5A | 4A | 3A | 2A/1A | Girls

COMPLETE COVERAGE OF 2023 OSAA WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS