Leo battles back to 4A consolation finals

By ADAM LAPIERRE

News staff writer

February 22, 2006

The Pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem was loud, crowded and action-packed Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the 2005 Oregon State Wrestling Championships. For the first two days, ten mats, running ten simultaneous matches, processed and eliminated the thousands of 1A through 4A wrestlers through the brackets, until the climactic placing rounds on Saturday night.

And from Hood River Valley High School, three wrestlers represented the Eagles on day one. Jose Ramirez qualified at 112 after taking the district champion title at last weekend’s Intermountain Conference (IMC) tournament at Crook County High School. Leo Gonzales advanced at 135 with a third place district finish and Alex Titus wrestled to second in the IMC to make state in the heavyweight division.

By the conclusion of day two, Ramirez and Titus were eliminated, leaving Gonzalez as the last man standing from Hood River. After three long days in the Pavilion, three separate weigh-ins, countless hours in the stands, warm-ups and cool-downs, stretching and rehydrating, battling nerves and stepping onto the mat, Gonzales advanced through seven rounds, to the consolation finals, where he wrestled to a fourth place finish.

“It was a long weekend,” Coach Rich Polkinghorn said. “The boys have been working hard all season and I think they felt ready for it. They wrestled very well, even in the matches they lost.”

All three Eagles drew a bye the first round on Thursday. And in the second round all three picked up wins to advance to the championship quarterfinals. Ramirez wrestled first, taking charge with a 9-4 win over Beaverton’s Ray Wille. Gonzales defeated junior Sam Noah of Hillsborough 9-3, followed by Titus, who advanced with a pin over Jimmy Harmon of Milwaukee.

At the conclusion of day one, the Eagles went to their hotel in high spirits, as all three had advanced with relative ease into the third round. But the sense of triumph was quickly deflated the following day, when all three boys lost their quarterfinal matches to drop into the consolation bracket.

Losing in large, double-elimination tournament like state is tough. The consolation bracket becomes the long road to victory, and to placing, and the hardest part is learning how not to give up. Some wrestlers want their season to be over; they have had a long, hard few months and they want to relax and stop putting themselves through the six-minute increments of pain. Those wrestlers are eliminated quickly and end up watching the finals from the stands.

Some wrestlers battle back after a loss, giving their all in every match, despite where it may put them in the following round. Ramirez and Titus wrestled like that. But, a big part of big tournament wrestling is the luck of the draw, which the Eagles’ 112 and 275 pounders did not get the better half of.

Ramirez’s first loss came from the eventual state champion, freshman RJ Pena from Sprague High School. In the consolation bracket, he was eliminated from the tournament with a 5-0 loss from the eventual fourth place wrestler from Crater.

“Jose wrestled a great tournament, he just had a tough draw, Polkinghorn said. “I know it is a tough way for him to end, but he wrestled great, he had a great season and he has nothing to be bummed about.”

Titus’ first loss was at the hands of Ryan Rustrum from Newberg, who finished third. He was then eliminated in a double-overtime, 3-2 loss from the eventual fourth place finisher.

“We worked with Alex’s strategy in practice after districts,” Polkinghorn said. “But we only had a few days. He wrestled his matches, but it’s tough because once a guy knows you are a thrower, it is easy to wrestle against that. Alex has always been a committed and dedicated wrestler, and we expect him to be a top heavyweight contender next season.”

Both Ramirez and Titus were one win away from placing eighth or above.

Last season Gonzales went 1-2 at state. After losing his first match, he lost composure and confidence and did not have what it took to battle back into the placing rounds. This season, however, Gonzalez would not watch the battle for the 4A 135 pound podium from a distance in the stands. After his first loss, which was in overtime by Jon Ulrey from North Medford, Gonzalez went on a three-round winning streak, by defeating Jon Fross of Century 6-3, Jake Young of Reynolds 7-3 and Robbie Mannenboch of Eagle Point 15-4.

After defeating Gonzales, Ulrey advanced to the championship semi-finals, where he faced defending state champion Austin Enoch, of Redmond High School. Enoch is, pound-for-pound, probably the best wrestler in the state this year. He pinned Ulrey in the second round, dropping the North Medford wrestler into the semifinals of the consolation bracket. Ulrey advanced with a 14-1 win to the consolation finals, where Gonzalez would also end up.

Gonzalez wrestled a tired final match, losing 14-1 to take fourth place.

“Leo was able to snap out of his first loss and get ready for his next match,” said Polkinghorn. “And in that match he dominated. From there he made a great run … I think his experience at state last year really made the difference. Taking fourth was really great for Leo. He has come a long way.”

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