The Dalles wrestling head coach Paul Beasley was emotionally spent following two days of district action this weekend in Pendleton.
There were tears of joy, consoling hugs to athletes that were unable to qualify for state and there was a feeling of pride that the program is headed in the right direction.
The Dalles wrestling squad had five placers for the first time in more than a decade, four wrestlers advanced to state for the first time in eight years and JR Scott clinched a district title for the first time since Joe Linebarger did it four years ago.
After Scott, Austin Greene claimed second place, Andrew Richman scored third place, Steven Preston placed fourth and Conor Blair capped his tournament in fifth place.
“It was a very emotional couple of days to see these young men that you had spent so much time with and know the sacrifices that they’ve made see the success that you want so desperately for them to experience,” Beasley said. “To have three seniors, JR, Austin and Andrew, fight their way through an incredibly difficult district and go to state validates the direction that our program is taking.”
In the 195-pound division, Scott (32-6 record) had byes in the first two rounds and then faced Colton Schlachter (Crook County) in the semifinals.
The Riverhawk senior used only 26 seconds to pin his opponent to move into the championship.
Scott had a much tougher task versus Pendleton’s Aiden Henderson (31-17), but eventually earned the pinfall triumph at the 2:51 mark of the second round to secure his crown.
“Winning a district championship means so much to me,” Scott said. “I want to win state, and this is one step towards that goal.”
In years past, Scott faced several obstacles such as illness and injuries that kept him from getting over the proverbial mountaintop.
This year, he was as healthy as he’s ever been, and it showed in his impressive final campaign.
“It’s a combination of things,” Scott said. “This is the first year I have been healthy, had a good wrestling partner and I’ve learned a ton from Coach (Jacob) Abrams.”
Greene (21-14 record) posted a 3-1 record to earn runner-up status and he was able to cruise to the semifinals following back-to-back pins in his first two matches.
The 152-pound senior pinned Javier Galvez (Hood River Valley) in the third round (4:33) and he dropped Rylan Lynch (Redmond) at the 2:45 mark of the second round.
In his semifinal bout, Greene battled against Josh Whaley (Pendleton) and eventually pulled off a 7-4 decision to chalk up his finals bid.
Already with a state qualification in tow, Greene duked it out with Benjamin Sather (Crook County), but ended up taking a 6-0 decision loss.
“Going to state this year has meant a lot to me,” Greene said. “Ever since I got injured last year, state was always my goal. It didn’t feel like an unattainable goal because I knew going into Saturday that I was ready to go out there and win and I did.”
Coming in as the No. 15-ranked wrestler at 138 pounds, Richman (21-11 record) faced quality opponents throughout his third-place run.
After a bye, Richman won by second-round fall over Hood River Valley’s Preston Armstrong (3:47) and he lost by a 16-3 major decision to Junior Downing (Redmond) in the semifinals.
The senior, out of Dufur, bounced back for a first-round pin victory against Alexander Vail (Crook County) at 32 seconds to vault into a third and fourth place match versus Armstrong.
The Hood River grappler could not continue, however, as Richman clinched third following an injury default.
TD’s last state-qualifier, Preston (26-9 record) dealt with sickness issues throughout the week entering tournament action and amassed a 2-2 finish at 160 pounds and scored 16 team points in his bracket.
Preston had a bye in his first match to advance to the quarterfinals, where he dispatched Justin Garcia (Redmond) in the third round (4:58).
Against Pendleton’s Isaac Urbina (39-10 record) Preston could not break free and wound up losing by pinfall at the 2:37 mark of the second round.
Although his title hopes were dashed, Preston fought on for a chance at a state berth in the consolation semifinals against Kyle Liscom (Pendleton).
The Riverhawk junior came away with a pinfall victory at 3:08 of the second round to punch his state ticket.
Taking a stab at third place, Preston faced off with Gavin McLean (Crook County) for three grueling rounds, with the Buckaroo wrestler picking up a 9-2 decision win.
“Steven’s path was a difficult one,” coach Beasley said. “Earlier in the year, we decided he would wrestle at 160 pounds to avoid the difficulties of cutting weight to 152. He failed to make weight at a tournament, and we put him at 160, to his dismay, but he ended up winning that tournament and the rest is history. He has improved every day. I am very proud of him.”
As the youngest wrestler in the group of five placers, Blair flirted with a state berth in one of the most inspiring performances of the weekend.
Blair (6-12 record) lost his first match at 106 pounds versus Logan Hill (Redmond) by second-round pin (22:28), so he had to climb back into contention through the consolation bracket.
The Riverhawk freshman, who wrestled for the first time ever, had two straight byes and then went up against Collin Primus (Pendleton) in the consolation semifinals.
Primus ended up scoring a pin at 1:36 of the first round, giving Blair an eventual fifth-place outcome.
All season, Beasley has been supported by his assistant coaches Ryan Manciu and Mark Scott, but the addition of former collegiate All-American, Abrams, has added a new dimension to the program.
“I cannot say enough about how Ryan (Manciu) and Jacob (Abrams) created a perfect season-long practice plan and how they executed it to perfection to get our kids at their peak level at exactly the right time and place,” Beasley said. “It was an outstanding bit of coaching.”
The Dalles had four seniors on the roster and had three advance to state, so with seven boys and two girls expected to return next year.
Coupled with an influx of incoming freshmen that are skilled enough to make an immediate impact, Scott is hopeful that this weekend is the perfect push the program needs to continue this upward swing.
“This weekend was really exciting, and it shows the improvement we’ve made as a program,” Scott said. “To have so many wrestlers do so well in the tournament and make it to state is huge. All the success we had shows everyone what hard work can accomplish, and hopefully, it excites all new wrestlers in the area to come out and join our team.”
The two-day state tournament begins on Friday, Feb. 22 and ends on Feb. 23 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
With added recovery time, a sense of accomplishment and a desire to cap the season with a bang, Greene and his teammates are more motivated than ever before.
“It feels awesome to get to state,” Greene said. “I don’t want to give up this sport that easy because of what it has done for me. I am really proud of these guys and I know we want to go out there and show that The Dalles is back. Our mindset is to wrestle our matches and to never give up. Our success will feed off that.”