Crescent Valley's James Rowley (top) held off Sprague's Brook Byers at 182 in a match of two-time state champs (Jon Olson)
Crescent Valley's James Rowley (top) held off Sprague's Brook Byers at 182 in a match of two-time state champs (Jon Olson)

Newberg’s overwhelming depth prevailed at the 20th Reser’s Tournament of Champions this weekend at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

The 6A powerhouse Tigers not only won the team race over 18 other squads, scoring 287.5 points to outdistance second-place Crescent Valley by 46 points; they had it wrapped up before the championship and placement matches even began!

“We came into the tournament wanting to be our best us and we were pretty close to that,” noted Newberg head coach Neil Russo. “Our kids competed from start to finish. We entered 13 scorers and everyone won a match; everyone got a fall in fact.”

Since its inception, the Tournament of Champions was designed to identify the best of the best, both individually and team wise. This year, one year after Covid canceled the event, all of the best teams in the state, except 4A No. 1 La Grande, were able to make the trip.

“I wish La Grande would have been here because they would have scored well,” said tournament founder Marty Reser

Newberg has so much depth that Brandon Smith at 113 and Cougar Friesen at 160 -- two non-scorers because the tournament only allows teams to enter one scoring wrestlers per weight division – placed third and fourth, respectively, in their divisions. 

“I’ve got four more returning state place winners that are in our JV lineup in another tournament [Wilsonville] this weekend,” Russo said. “We do have depth. It’s a nice luxury to have, but our frontline kids are pretty darned good in their own right. You put eight in the finals in this tournament…that’s almost a bulletproof lineup in a dual meet setting and it’s obviously is a very good in a tournament lineup as well.”

Indeed, the only smudge on Newberg’s shine came Saturday afternoon when five of its eight finalists lost in their championship matches. After top-seeded Isaac Hampton won his match at 113 pounds, five Tigers went down in succession before Ayden Garver and Charlie Evans closed with victories.

“I don’t think that we were favored to win any of the five finals that we lost,” Russo explained. “You’d like to get one of those, but there were some outstanding individuals in this tournament. Getting beat in the finals here isn’t anything to hang your head about. We came here and wrestled. Everybody did their job. We competed. That’s all you can ask of these guys.”

Crescent Valley, the top-ranked 5A team in the state and the 2020 Reser’s team champion, was the most impressive team on Saturday. The Raiders placed six in the finals and emerged with five champions. They also had three others place, led by 106-pounder Everest Sutton, who finished third.

“Everybody performed to where I thought they were going to,” said Crescent Valley coach Chad Lamer. “I even had a couple of guys that did better than I thought. Our 220 pounder [Jayden Cobb] got in for third/fourth. I wasn’t expecting him to do that well. I’m proud of him for that. I figured we’d get close to about 240 points and we got about that.”

“Our kids put a lot of time into the sport,” Lamer added. “When they can come out and dominate so many weight classes, it’s fun for them to see and for the rest of the state to see how hard they’re working and how much better they’re getting all the time.”

Six schools left Liberty with championship wrestlers on their buses: five from Crescent Valley, three from Newberg, two each from Roseburg and Thurston and one apiece from Sprague and West Linn. To appreciate how hard it is to win a title at the ToC, consider this: 15 of the 28 wrestlers in the finals were defending state champions. Seven others were second- or third-place state finishers.

The most exciting match was the final one, the 132-pound bout between Crescent Valley junior DJ Gillett, the defending 5A champion at 120 pounds; and Roseburg senior Nash Singleton, a two-time reigning 6A champion.

Singleton, an Oregon State signee, got the match’s first takedown 24 seconds in at the edge of the circle just before the wrestlers left the mat. Gillett, on the bottom to start the second period, got an escape to pull within one, then took the lead on a takedown. Singleton escaped to send the match to the third period tied at 3-3.

Singleton, on bottom to start the period, escaped to take the lead, then took down Gillett to open up a three-point advantage midway through. Singleton rode Gillett well after a back to center re-start with 43 seconds to go until Gillett escaped with 19 ticks left. With the clock winding down, Singleton was assessed a point penalty for stalling, which changed the ballgame. Now a Gillett takedown could win it!

“I actually didn’t know I’d given up a penalty point,” Singleton said. “I wasn’t stalling, I was just wrestling in good position and getting penalized for it. I just knew I couldn’t give up another takedown like I had earlier.”

In the last seconds, Gillett attacked and got behind Singleton. He almost got his two in the final frenzied seconds and might have with a few more seconds. But Singleton, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler afterwards, was able to hold him off. 

“DJ wrestled really well against Nash; I know that’s a bad matchup for him and I thought he wrestled really well,” Lamer said.

“We’ve been going to tournaments all around,” Singleton said of he and Gillett. “I never got to wrestle him but I’ve been placing above him. I kind of figured I could win. I didn’t think it was going to be as close as it was.”

“I feel like it was pretty good for me to win this,” Singleton added. “It was cool to win especially since I’ve never won the tournament before.”

Singleton’s younger brother, Gage Singleton, got the championship matches started with a second-period pin of Sweet Home’s Kyle Sieminski at 106 pounds, another bout that pitted defending state champions against one another. Singleton had Sieminski on his back in the first period and took a 7-0 lead into the second. Singleton controlled the match the entire way, gave up only two escapes and led 13-2 went the hand came down 40 seconds into Period 2.

The 285-pound bout staged next and produced Crescent Valley’s first win, as Raider senior Riley Godek, the defending 5A champion at 285, defeated Cole Steketee of Sprague, 13-3.

Godek had two takedowns in the first period and led, 4-2, after one. He gave up the second point on an escape late in the period after thinking a whistle from the fifth-place match was intended for him. The point didn’t hurt Godek, who is barely over 200 pounds, as the senior extended his lead to 6-2 after two then got two third period takedowns and back points to produce the final margin.

“My whole goal out there was to focus on takedowns,” Godek. “It was fun to go out there and represent Crescent Valley.”

Sophomore Isaac Hampton got Newberg’s first win in the next match. A great athlete facing another great athlete in fellow sophomore Scout Santos of Mountain View, the duo, second and third, respectively, in the state last spring, wrestled a fast-paced, entertaining match. The score was 3-2 Hampton after two rounds but grew to 6-2 before Santos reversed and threatened to put Hampton on his back. Hampton recovered, escaped and got a late takedown on his way to a 9-5 win.

Thurston junior Vaun Halstead took the next bout, 10-1 over senior Hayden Hampton of Newberg, with a workmanlike performance at 220 pounds that showcased his strength and athleticism.

The 120-pound bout followed and it was a doozy! The match featured defending 6A champion Brayden Boyd of Sprague and 6A runner up Ethan Ritchie of Newberg. Boyd prevailed, 9-3, when they wrestled for the title in June, but this match was much, much closer. Ritchie had two takedowns to open up a 4-1 lead after one period and led 5-2 in the second when Boyd executed a lightning-speed takedown to a pinning cradle with less than 30 seconds left in the second.

The 195-pound match pitted Crescent Valley versus Newberg in one of just two head-to-head championship bouts at Reser’s between the tournament’s top teams. Hayden Walters of CV and Hudson Davis of Newberg were both defending state champions but Walters had the better of it in this match, winning by an 11-4 score. Davis was aggressive in his approach, but Walters countered effectively and looked in control throughout.

“I couldn’t find my shots as easily as I wanted to,” Walters said. “That was probably me and my hand fight, not being committed enough. But I still got the job done, which is all you could ask for.”

Gabe Whisenhunt added to Crescent Valley’s treasure with a first-period pin in the next bout over Andrew Worthington of Mountain View at 126 pounds. Whisenhunt, a two-time reigning state champion, pinned his way through the tournament, joining Gage Singleton as the only two to enjoy that distinction.

The expected intense, hard-fought battle between two, two-time state champions, James Rowley of Crescent Valley and Brook Byers of Sprague, at 182 pounds, took on more intrigue late in the first period when Rowley injured his left knee on a break. He later told his coach that he heard a pop. Rowley continued on and needed all of his strength and experience to hold off Byers, 6-4.

Senior Dylan Mann of La Pine was the state champion, but junior Kolton Malone of Thurston was the top seed in the 138-pound final. It was a fascinating matchup of Mann’s tremendous speed against Malone’s brute strength. Strength prevailed but not before Mann registered two late takedowns to make the final score 10-7.

The 170-pound match saw West Linn junior Justin Rademacher take on Newberg senior Gavin Korkeakoski. When these two last faced off, for third place in the June state event, Rademacher prevailed by fall. This one was more tightly contested, as Rademacher scored a takedown midway through the first to account for the only scoring over the first four minutes of the bout. Rademacher built a 5-0 lead in the third then played defense to counter Korkeakoski’s repeated shots in the 7-2 win.

Garver, the only three-time defending state champion in the tournament, captured the 145-pound championship for Newberg by an 11-2 count of Junior Downing of Redmond. The score was just 2-1 after one before Garver scored a reverse and near fall to open the second.

“We felt each other out in the first round,” Garver explained. “I was bottom to start the second round and reversed him, then put him on his back with the leg split. I was feeling pretty confident with that big lead and by that point the match was pretty much over. I rode him out on top, kept putting pressure and scoring points."

“I was out there for some blood,” Garver added. “I had a close match with that kid earlier in the year. I wanted to prove that it’s never going to be that close again.”

Daschle Lamer of Crescent Valley won the 160-pound division, but had to work to down Newberg’s Price Pothier, 9-1. The Raiders finished 2-0 versus Newberg in finals.

“Everybody wants to make the deal with Newberg/Crescent Valley and the comparisons,” Coach Russo of Newberg said. “I tell our kids and our people that’s not how we’re going to measure ourselves. We’re going to measure ourselves against ourselves. I know that’s ‘coachspeak’ but our kids don’t get hung up on things like that. They do what they need to do; I think we’re better for that.”

The 152-pound match saw Newberg’s Evans, a two-time state champion, win a 4-0 tactical battle over Thurston’s Hunter Harwood.

Reser admitted that this year’s tournament, which had no JV, used fewer mats and only admitted spectators for the semifinals on Friday and the placement matches on Saturday, was “a little bit different.”

“It was hard to get energy going, because we lost not having the family or friend support,” he said. “It took a while to get some energy until the semis last night but I think we finished on a good note. There was some really good wrestling and the kids don’t have to worry about shock and awe. They know exactly what the state tournament is going to be like and they are ready to go.”

Russo echoed Reser’s sentiments about the importance of having the tournament this year.   

“To see kids and families be able to get out and do the things they want to be doing… to have an event like this even though you have to change the parameters and protocols; anytime you can give the kids the chance to get out and be kids,” he said. “I think it’s super important and I’m thankful for that.”