Crater senior wrestlers Zeth Brower and Logan Meek had choices to make, and each chose the more difficult path in pursuit of Class 5A state titles this past weekend in Portland.
No one would have blamed either for leaning the other direction, but that’s not who they are.
For Brower, that meant wrestling at 120 pounds just so he could have a chance at avenging a particularly disappointing loss from last year.
For Meek, that meant moving up a weight to 160 and battling a size disadvantage for the betterment of his team and especially to open things up for senior workout partner Dallas Howard (who placed fourth at 152).
None of it slowed either Comet from their ultimate goal at Memorial Coliseum.
Brower pinned his first three opponents to set up a championship final rematch with Silverton sophomore Kaden Kuenzi, who upset him 14-11 in last year’s state semifinals. In the final, Brower shook off an early deficit to score five unanswered points in a 5-2 triumph to claim his first state title after finishing runner-up in 2015 and 2016 and third last year.
“A safe bet for Zeth would’ve been going 113,” said Crater head coach Greg Haga, “and early in the year we decided that wasn’t what he was going to do. He said, ‘No, I’m going up and I want to go after it.’ And that’s what he did, I’m proud of him.”
Meek definitely had a lot riding on this year’s state tournament as he sought to join Shane Webster as the only wrestlers in Crater history to earn three state championships, but a late-season decision to move to 160 despite him naturally weighing around 156 was made without a second thought.
“Team-wise it just worked out for our lineup better,” Meek said prior to the state tourney. “It’s a little more challenging, but there’s not a lot to it for me. I’m a little on the lighter end for sure, but I think my technique is going to hold up and stay true for me more than anything.”
It certainly did as Meek pinned his first two opponents in 22 seconds and 38 seconds, respectively, before a 12-5 semifinals win over Sandy senior Max Topliff that saw one anxious moment as he fought off a near-fall in the second round that cut his lead to 6-5.
“In the semifinals the kid kind of caught me in a quick little throw and put me on my back, but I just knew I had to keep going and I’d break him, which I did,” said Meek.
There was no such drama in Meek’s championship final, with the Oregon State-bound standout scoring a takedown of Putnam’s Giovanni Hernandez in nine seconds and leading 6-1 after one round and 9-1 after two rounds during his 13-4 triumph. Meek’s one stumble to the second-seeded Hernandez was countered seconds later with a reversal as if it never happened.
“Logan’s a special individual,” said Haga. “I’ve been lucky and had a few like him in my career. It was kind of interesting before the match he was a little nervous and he said, ‘Have you watched this guy wrestle?’ And I said, ‘He wrestles just like anybody else, but if you go out and wrestle like you do, you’ll beat him.’”
The battle for Brower was a little more personal, and certainly required more mental and physical focus against Kuenzi, who won the state title at 106 last year.
Kuenzi was granted respect by Brower and the Comets for being such a worthy adversary, but this time Brower simply would not be denied. Kuenzi got in on a single-leg takedown 30 seconds into the championship match but didn’t score again.
Brower managed a similar takedown in the second round and, after gaining a point with a neutral start in the third round, Brower iced the match with another takedown with 50 seconds to go and never let Kuenzi up again.
“Zeth got taken down early but you saw that he just kept his composure, kept the heat on and got the leg attacks,” said Haga. “He’s always kind of been like that where he keeps his composure. He can score at any time and is very tough on top.”
And with Kuenzi as the only reason Brower was up at 120 pounds, the opportunity was too important to not be seized.
“I don’t like cutting away from people, I like the match,” Brower said of chasing a challenge. “I don’t ever get why people cut away just to get a state title. I don’t believe in that. I’m all for getting good matches.”
He also said an earlier winning performance against Roseburg senior Hunter Sparks at the Reser’s Tournament of Champions gave him confidence that never wavered during Saturday’s final. In that match, Brower battled back in overtime to beat Sparks, who is a three-time state finalist and earned his second state title on Saturday.
“Honestly beating Hunter Sparks and being down by two points the whole match just made me realize that no matter what the score is you always have to keep wrestling and you can’t quit,” said Brower. “I just kept replaying getting beat last year (by Kuenzi) and how it felt the whole year just waiting to get back at it. I wasn’t going to let it happen again, especially ending on that note my senior year, I wanted to win.”
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry