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One to grow on

Dillon Ulrey hasn’t always had it easy. In fact, few things have come that way for the 5-foot-8 freshman wrestler at Clackamas Community College.

So it comes as no surprise that when the going got tough in his most recent match, that’s when Ulrey really got going.

A 2016 North Medford High graduate from Central Point, Ulrey came up with a confidence-building highlight to an already promising junior college season this past Saturday when he rallied from a 5-1 deficit to upend top-ranked and reigning NAIA national champion Blake Cooper of Warner Pacific, 7-6, in a triple-overtime thriller.

The win at 165 pounds bumped Ulrey’s season record to 15-4 and helped sixth-ranked Clackamas CC improve to 9-0 heading into Saturday’s Clackamas Duals against No. 7 Southwestern Oregon Community College, No. 9 Northwest College of Wyoming and No. 19 Highline College.

Ulrey is now ranked seventh at 165 pounds, joining former North Medford High teammates Wyatt Westfall and Cole Hornbrook — who each wrestle for SWOCC — in the NJCAA wrestling rankings. Westfall is third at 197 and Hornbrook fifth at 157.

“It was an awesome win and it was a fun moment,” said Clackamas head coach Josh Rhoden, in his 11th season with the program. “We pretty much had the whole team in the stands and they were going bananas, so it was a great moment for him and really for all of us.”

The season is a long ways from being over, mind you, but the importance of the moment wasn’t lost on Ulrey.

“I’m just happy to be wrestling again,” said Ulrey, who placed third for North Medford in the 2015 Class 6A state tournament. “It was a really awesome win but it was tough … way tough.”

After two solid seasons of wrestling at Crater, Ulrey essentially took his junior school year off to focus on personal matters. He had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and spurned school so he could go to work and save up money for the impending birth of his son Carter, who is 2½ years old.

A year later, he transferred to North Medford and essentially re-did his junior year in 2014-15 and was ineligible to compete for the Black Tornado last year as a fifth-year super senior.

“It was kind of tough getting back into it at first here,” said Ulrey, who turns 20 in January. “Even the two years before I took the year off, I wasn’t too into wrestling so it actually was like almost three years being off (wrestling). When I came back I was very, very rusty, but I’ve just worked nonstop the past two years and haven’t taken really any breaks at all to just kind of push through everything and get back to my old self I guess.”

That hard work especially paid off Saturday against the sophomore Cooper, who surprised Ulrey with a takedown in the first seven seconds of the match and opened a 5-1 lead in the second round before the tide finally began to turn. Ulrey scored an escape and then a takedown with 13 seconds left in the second round to pull within 5-4, then used a third-round escape to tie the match.

Neither wrestler scored in the one-minute sudden-victory first overtime, and Cooper escaped from the down position in the 30-second second OT for a 6-5 edge heading into the third and final OT.

In the final 30-second session, Ulrey circled to a single-leg and ultimately landed a reversal with 12 seconds remaining and rode out his opponent for a well-received triumph.

“In the first round, he kind of imposed his will on me a little bit more and was doing what he wanted,” said Ulrey, “but in the second round I started opening up and seeing things a little more. After that it was just my match and by the mid- to late-second round, he didn’t have anything going for him.”

The difference in that marquee match, according to Rhoden, was Ulrey’s ability to avoid trouble.

“Honestly, it was all about him limiting mistakes because Blake is the type of kid that’s going to come at you for as long as you have to wrestle,” said the coach. “Dillon was obviously matching that intensity level, which was awesome for us to see as a staff, but the big thing is he didn’t put himself in any unfavorable positions.”

It was a little of that recklessness that led to a loss last month to SWOCC’s Lucius Van Rensburg, and has also played a factor in a pair of losses to Eastern Oregon’s Brandon Davidson.

“We call him a gunslinger out there,” said Rhoden. “He’s a risk taker and he wears that like a badge of honor, but at the same time it can get you in trouble. He does put himself in some crazy positions sometimes that he still ends up winning in, but he’s done a better job in limiting that lately.”

Ulrey chalks those moments up to growing pains as he continues to gain his foundation back in wrestling, but the push he’s getting in the Clackamas wrestling room has been invaluable during the process.

“They push us really hard and I think it’s helped me,” he said. “They’re one of the top junior college programs in the nation so they know what they’re doing. Our mat room is insane, honestly, the caliber of wrestling in our mat room is almost (Division I). Around my weight alone, we have three or four guys who have been or are going to go to (Division I) schools, so that pushes all of us really hard and I really like it. It’s been a fun little ride so far and hopefully we can finish it out with wins at regionals and nationals.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Clackamas freshman Dillon Ulrey, right, checks the clock as he works against Warner Pacific sophomore Blake Cooper Saturday. Ulrey, a North Medford graduate, won a 7-6 overtime decision against the NAIA's top-ranked Cooper. PHOTO BY JIM BESEDA