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Top of their class

Gabe Vidlak didn’t begin wrestling until his sixth-grade year, and Cascade Christian didn’t even have a wrestling program in 2014.

That’s what made Wednesday’s moment in the Cascade Christian High School commons area that much more special.

Surrounded by friends and family, including his mother Stephanie and father/wrestling coach Dan, Gabe Vidlak accomplished yet another first for the Challengers program when he signed a national letter of intent to wrestle at Oregon State University following his senior campaign.

“It feels great,” said the 18-year-old standout, who enters the coming wrestling season with a 90-5 overall record (45 wins by either pin or technical fall).

“Even though there’s still one more year of high school left for me to finish,” he added, “it just feels like it’s kind of the end now and all that hard work finally paid off for something.”

After wrestling well above his true weight and finishing third as a freshman in 2017, Gabe Vidlak secured the program’s first state title during an unbeaten sophomore season at 113 pounds and then backed that up with a repeat championship last year at 120.

Vidlak expects to be favored for a third straight state title come late February, and couldn’t be more excited to then take the next step as part of an Oregon State program he fell in love with through several visits before making his intentions truly known last month.

“I just loved everything about it from the first visit,” he said of his time in Corvallis with the Beavers, “and after that it started to actually become a reality instead of a dream.”

Similar dreams were accomplished throughout the Rogue Valley during the first day of the fall collegiate signing period Wednesday, with four NCAA Division I signings overall.

Ashland High’s EJ Holland (cross country) signed with the University of Oregon and classmate Scott Gustafson (boys soccer) signed with the University of Washington in local ceremonies, while South Medford’s Bella Pedrojetti continued the girls basketball program’s history of Division I products by signing with Eastern Washington University.

Holland, who previously this year spoke of how excited he was to join the Ducks, capped off his cross country career with a second straight Class 5A state title last Saturday in a state record time of 14 minutes, 30 seconds.

Including track, Holland now boasts six state titles and has already earned national acclaim with hopes of more to come.

Gustafson is a first-team all-state midfielder for the Grizzlies who had 10 goals and six assists this fall. The 6-foot, 160-pound standout made the lone penalty kick for Ashland in Tuesday’s 1-0 state semifinals loss to Wilsonville that was decided by a 4-1 edge in penalty kicks.

“Scotty is a great player and a great team player, with leadership and skills,” said Ashland boys soccer coach Abdiaziz Guled. “He’s just a wonderful player to have. I’m so proud of him and congratulate him going to Washington.”

“He was just great at controlling the game and tempo,” added Guled. “We’re going to miss him big.”

Gustafson began actively seeking collegiate opportunities as early as his freshman year and, on the advice of some family friends, attended Huskies recruiting camps over the years to try and get his foot in the door.

“I just wanted to show myself to them and at first it wasn’t really looking like I was going to be good enough to make it on the team,” said the 17-year-old. “But I just kept progressing and kind of broke the glass ceiling they thought I was going to have and really impressed them with how I kept growing.”

Pedrojetti, a 5-foot-10 guard, enters her senior season 10th on South Medford’s all-time scoring list at 973 points and, with good health and her continued success, could easily finish among the top-5 when all is said and done. She averaged 13 points and four rebounds one year ago.

Gabe Vidlak credited the guidance of his father for allowing him to reach Wednesday’s milestone, along with the efforts of older brother Ryan, who was his workout partner over his first five years on the mat, and, more recently, his training with assistant coach Casey Coulter.

Averaging about five takedowns per match during his young career, Vidlak is a former Reno Worlds champion and competed this past summer as part of the Team Oregon national team.

Dan Vidlak said his son’s late start in the sport has interestingly helped spur him to a tremendous work ethic when it comes to wrestling. Gabe Vidlak has also played soccer and boys golf during his time at Cascade Christian High, and holds a 3.8 grade-point average.

“Gabe’s a very driven person,” said Dan Vidlak. “When he knows what he wants, he’s willing to sacrifice. He knows full on what’s going to be required of him (at Oregon State), and what’s been required of him here to make that jump.”

“He’s always been making up ground,” he added, “so he’s always got that mentality that I’m behind, and he kind of is in some regards. One of the things Oregon State really liked about him was they saw some of the success he’s had but they also saw that this kid has only been wrestling for six years, and most kids wrestle when they’re tiny. He still has a lot of growth, I think his trajectory is huge, and they see that.”

Dan Vidlak was a standout wrestler in his own right, at all levels. He was a two-time state champion at Hidden Valley High, going undefeated in his final two seasons, before winning three Pac-10 Conference championships to go with a pair of All-American honors at 118 pounds at the University of Oregon.

The elder Vidlak also earned a gold medal at the Pan-American Games as a member of the US national team, scoring three consecutive 10-0 technical falls in the 105.5-pound class.

“The dream is to at least place at the NCAA tournament and be an All-American a few times like my dad,” said Gabe Vidlak, who likely will redshirt in his first year at OSU. “But I just hope to have a good time (at Oregon State). I feel like I really fit in with that team. I love the team, I love the coaches and we’re going to have a positive experience, work hard and do our best.”

Former Crater standout Logan Meek is a sophomore competing at Oregon State under head coach Jim Zalesky, and Dan Vidlak said he’s especially excited about the Beavers’ lightweight wrestlers moving forward, especially his son’s chance to potentially train with 125-pound sophomore Brandon Kaylor.

“I’m just so excited as a dad and coach to see how it all works out,” said Dan Vidlak. “He’s going to a good program and he fits there.”

After taking over a fledgling Challengers program that began in 2007 under Joe Hagler’s direction but didn’t field a squad in 2014, the coach in Vidlak was also extremely proud of what Wednesday’s signing said about his program, which has hovered between four and 10 wrestlers in the room since 2015.

“It’s really satisfying and the biggest regard is it just validates what we’re doing is college-level stuff,” he said. “I’ve always believed that we’re doing the right thing. We haven’t really cracked this nut as far as getting the football players out and those tremendous athletes we have over there, and that’s OK. I’ve always said I want to do good for six people or 10 people as I would 40 people. Each person matters and I’m going to work with whoever God gives me.”

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune South Medford basketball player Bella Pedrojetti signs her commitment papers to Eastern Washington University Wednesday along-side her father Jimmy Pedrojetti and coach Tom Cole.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAshland cross country and track star EJ Holland hugs his mother Elizabeth after signing commitment papers to U of O Wednesday afternoon.