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PREP NOTEBOOK: Phoenix's Truex remains true to her word

Phoenix senior Emma Truex didn’t have to compete this past weekend at the Class 4A District 3 regional tournament in Cottage Grove.

She had already punched her ticket two weeks ago to the girls wrestling state tournament as a four-time South Regional champion, but the drive to help her boys teammates in any way she could was simply too much to offset any thoughts of resting up for this week’s state gathering at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum.

Besides, Truex had more than earned the right to stand toe-to-toe with the top boys at her weight class as the region’s No. 1 seed at 126 pounds.

“It’s exciting to be well-recognized in boys wrestling now, too, because that is hard for a girl,” said the 18-year-old standout. “You don’t see many girls in the state boys rankings and in my conference I was ranked first overall, so that was nice. It’s nice to finally be able to say I’m not just a good girls wrestler, but I’m a good wrestler.”

Were it not for a slight mistake this past Saturday night, Truex may have found herself atop another regional podium after pinning her first two foes to reach the championship match. In the finale, however, Mazama’s Tanner Wood won by fall in 1 minute, 45 seconds.

“I posted my head right next to my knee, which I shouldn’t have, and he caught a cradle,” she said, still shaking her head at the turning point. “Tanner Wood is going to be a good wrestler. He’s only a sophomore and he’s come in and won the regional so he has high hopes over there at Mazama.”

“It was frustrating not getting my takedown points and stuff like that,” she added of the title match. “I wish I would’ve wrestled my bottom position better, but I can say that for a lot of matches on my season actually. I just didn’t even think I put it there. I just put my knee there and he took the chance and he got it.”

First-year Phoenix head coach Tyler Cowger said it was never a thought not to give Truex a shot at competing in the boys regional. She had held down the 126 spot throughout dual meets this season for the Pirates and earned her top ranking.

“Overall I just wanted her to end her senior year on a good note,” said Cowger. “She’s always wrestled on the boys side so just the satisfaction of her finishing the boys season seeded No. 1 in the tournament, for mat time and as a little bit of a thank you for what you’ve done, we wanted to give her that time.”

By Truex finishing second overall, what the Pirates and the 5-foot-6 dynamo also accomplished was giving her a choice as to which tournament she wanted to compete in this week. She could potentially become the first four-time girls wrestling state champion after three already dominant runs, or become the first girl to finish as a state-placer for Phoenix at the traditional Class 4A state tournament.

Turns out, though, there really was no choice to be made.

“I sat down and talked to her about that,” said Cowger. “I think going for a four-time state championship is a little bit higher of a pinnacle for her, knowing that she will wrestle in college against girls.”

Truex agreed, noting that previous shoulder issues and a lifelong dream of being a four-time state champion made her choice a no-brainer.

“I feel like my girls state bracket this year is going to be a good one as it is,” she said. “Competing in the guys would be fun and get my team points, but I think the competition in the girls and going for that four-time champion would feel good, too. At Phoenix we haven’t had a girls four-time (champion) so being the first one would mean a lot.”

What it would mean is, well, everything to Truex.

She got into wrestling at an early age after watching older brother Garrett compete in the sport and wanting to follow in his footsteps. Her goal-setting was immediate, and Garrett has been by her side every step of the way as her coach in girls matches.

“To get a fourth state title, it probably would be the biggest accomplishment in my life,” said Truex. “Starting wrestling when I was 4, I always told my mom, ‘I want to be a four-time, I want to be a four-time.’ Now that it’s time to go for it, this is the last thing I have to do in high school and need to do for my Phoenix team, so it means the world to me to bring another one back and get the four-time and finish out my high school career with the goal I’ve had since I was a kid.”

That’s not to suggest it wouldn’t be exciting to see what Truex could pull off in the traditional tournament considering her already strong wrestling résumé.

She finished runner-up at the elite Reno Worlds girls tournament last spring, is a former Greco-Roman champion and has competed on all-star regional and national girls wrestling squads.

“I definitely think she makes it to the Saturday tournament but it’s hard to say,” said Cowger of a potential run against the boys. “It’s a tough weight class, who knows what she would’ve done. She could’ve snuck into the top 6, but I wouldn’t have expected her to place in the 4A tournament. She’s a hard worker and surprises me every time she steps out there, though, so maybe she could’ve pulled it off.”

One thing is for sure, Truex credits her constant competition against boys for helping her become a better wrestler.

“I feel like if I wrestled girls all year, I wouldn’t be close to where I am athletically or in any way,” she said. “Wrestling guys makes you think about how you wrestle more, and makes you realize where your strengths are compared to theirs.”

“Wrestling guys just makes you a better wrestler overall because they’re automatically going to be stronger,” added Truex. “They’re physically built better for this sport than I am but it helps me realize what I can do, and if I can run most stuff against a guy, I can run it against a girl.”

Cowger is Truex’s third head coach in her four years — he followed current Southern Oregon University women’s coach Joel Gibson and fellow former SOU wrestler Jon Gay — but he’s been around the program and knows all too well that Truex’s success stems well beyond training against the boys.

“I think it’s the way she works and learns and develops every day,” said Cowger. “Even though she’s a three-time state champion for girls and a strong wrestler, she’s still the one asking questions every day in the wrestling room on how to adjust or how to change to get better.”

“She’s the first one in the wrestling room and the last one out everyday,” he added. “Even when she was rehabbing her shoulder she was there every day, helping out and coaching her teammates and with our mat club and youth club. You’re just lucky as a coach to have someone like that in your program.”

For her part, Truex said she feels fortunate to have come along in the sport when she has, with more recognition and opportunities given to girls in wrestling than anytime before.

Last year was the first in which girls wrestling was a sanctioned sport by the Oregon School Activities Association after a handful of years at exhibition status, and collegiate girls wrestling programs continue to gain popularity nationwide.

“It’s been quite an experience,” she said. “Going into high school, Phoenix had had one girl come through the program who just wrestled her senior year. You don’t see many women wrestling in Oregon yet but it’s definitely growing. Seeing it sanctioned and getting my state medal that didn’t say exhibition on the back — knowing that I was an official state champion in Oregon — it’s a different feeling.”

“I’m really grateful for the time of wrestling I’m in,” added Truex. “Going forward with it even after high school, colleges are growing now and Division I schools are predicted to be getting teams. I just feel like everything lined up perfectly with how I came into high school wrestling. It’s not big enough now to where I would just be wrestling girls but it’s not small enough to where I have to compete with guys. I always have an option, and it always seems to fall into place perfectly with how I want everything to be.”

And if all goes well, it will continue to fall into place this week for Truex in her eight-person girls bracket.

“I think the state tournament will be a good one this year,” she said. “I’m excited to see how it goes for me, and I’m excited for all (six) of my teammates who are going. I’m really proud of my team. I think we’ve built back up and we’re looking really good for the state tournament.”

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

Emma Truex, Phoenix High School senior wrestler. Photo by Denise Baratta