Twice as nice
PORTLAND — Given the way things are going these days, North Medford’s wrestlers better hope head coach Phillip Lopez doesn’t hire many heavyweight assistants.
For the second year in a row, North Medford crowned an individual state champion as Wyatt Westfall capped a remarkable run at the Class 6A wrestling state tournament with a title at 170 pounds Saturday.
And, for the second straight year, a Black Tornado coach was carried from the Memorial Coliseum floor in the aftermath of the kind of glory that eluded the program for its first 27 seasons.
Last year it was Trent Wilson shouldering Lopez through the exit when he became North Medford High’s first state champion. This year, assistant coach John Covey took the wild ride.
“It’s just something we do,” said Westfall. “We’re going to make that a tradition.”
With Westfall providing the highlight moment, North Medford was also able to nab only the second state trophy for the Medford School District since splitting into two high schools in 1986. Six state placers allowed North Medford to score 116 points and finish third — repeating the program’s effort in 2010 — behind Roseburg (234 points) and David Douglas (170) in the team standings.
“It means a lot to us to get a trophy,” said Westfall. “Our program is really young right now but it’ll get bigger and bigger and, next thing you know, we’re going to win a state title.”
Westfall earned his stripes with a perfect run here, topping the top three seeded wrestlers in succession to finish on top. The junior standout scored a 6-3 decision over No. 3 seed Jacob Taylor of West Linn in the quarterfinals, beat No. 2 seed Zephraim Childs of Barlow 4-3 in the semifinals and took the match to top-seeded Corson Davis of Sprague for a 3-2 win in the finals.
“He set the pace early,” said Lopez. “Usually in the finals guys will try to feel each other out, but he went out there and he went after it and never stopped wrestling.”
Westfall had Davis back on his heels so much that he was awarded a stalling point with two seconds to go in the first round. An early escape pushed that lead to 2-0 in the second and he held that margin for the rest of the period.
“I wasn’t worried about having to beat three seeds before I could do it,” Westfall said of his mindset. “I just got my head straight and went in there focused, thinking that I was going to win and I did win.”
Davis managed a reversal 20 seconds into the final round to even things up but he opted to allow Westfall an escape point instead of trying to earn points from the top position and that proved to be the deciding factor. Westfall thwarted any advance by Davis over the final 1 minute, 40 seconds and added a few shots of his own to secure a momentous moment.
“It was crazy walking out there with all those people looking at you,” Westfall said of his first finals experience. “You feel like a little ant but as soon as you win, you feel like a huge giant in there. It’s intense.”
Even though the day didn’t start out well for North Medford overall, the Black Tornado wrestlers showed tremendous fortitude to battle back and make the most of their second day.
After only one of the five semifinalists (Westfall) advanced in the championship bracket, seniors Wilson (195) and Dillon Ulrey (145) and juniors Henry Cox (113) and Cole Hornbrook (152) regrouped to all make it into the third-place finals. Joining them was senior teammate Skyler Black, who accomplished the feat the hard way through the consolation bracket at 220.
“The guys worked hard for it,” Lopez said. “We had a rough semis but we regrouped and they showed their character and what they meant to each other, and the pride they have for North Medford and the community and their families. It just showed that they’re willing to go to that next step because it meant that much to them.”
Cox was a hard-luck loser in his morning semifinal after opening a 4-1 advantage over McMinnville’s Aspen Nelson, only to see the second-seeded senior rally with an escape and a takedown — all in a five-second span — for a 5-4 decision. Undaunted, Cox moved into the third-place final and capped his tournament in style by getting South Salem’s Tanner Stones in a cradle for a pin in 1:36 to place third for the second straight season.
Also placing third for the Black Tornado were Ulrey and Hornbrook, who shook off rough semifinals losses to dominate their third-place finals. The third-seeded Ulrey picked away at McMinnville’s Bobby Crowston for a 13-5 major decision, while Hornbrook twice had No. 4 seed Ryan Schwartz of Aloha on his back in earning a fall in 1:26. It was Hornbrook’s third win over a seeded wrestler.
Wilson and Black may have had to battle the most throughout the tournament and each was left to settle for fourth place after exhausting performances.
For Wilson, his shot at another state title was whisker close before falling 4-2 in overtime to top-seeded Alvarro Venegas of McNary in the semifinals. Wilson made it into the third-place final against long-time rival Will Reddekopp of Roseburg and that overtime match was settled 4-3 in the final second on an escape by Reddekopp in the ultimate tiebreaker.
Black, who started the tournament with a pigtail upset of No. 1 seed Alex Thavongsack of Centennial, ended his run against that same foe in the third-place final. Black was able to gain an OT win in the first match and the second one was similarly tight until Thavongsack broke a scoreless tie with a third-round escape and takedown en route to a 3-1 triumph.
“We lost some tough matches but that happens, every team goes through that,” added Lopez. “It was just nice to see how they came back, they fed off of each other and that’s just what you want.”
South Medford senior Brandon Brooks fell just short in his bid for fifth place in an exhausting battle with West Linn’s Jacob Taylor, the No. 3 seed at 170. Brooks rallied to tie the match at 6-all but, with 10 seconds to go, his grip on Taylor was lost and his opponent escaped for a 7-6 decision.
Trajan Hurd of Grants Pass, who finished third last year, placed fifth at 145 with a 5-4 comeback against Roseburg’s Chad Jones.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry