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By René Ferrán

At the start of the season, we took a look at some of the top returning wrestlers in Oregon:

Class 6A | Class 5A | Class 4A | Class 3A | Class 2A/1A | Girls

This week, we are highlighting many of the freshmen and sophomores who have emerged as current and future stars in the sport.

Here is Part 2 of our list. You can read Part 1 here. Check back soon for Part 3.

Records through Sunday, Jan. 16

Gracee Grenfell, So., Liberty

Grenfell went 8-6 and qualified for the girls state tournament as a freshman. She’s demonstrated she’ll be among the favorites at either 125 or 130 this winter, getting off to a 14-3 start with wins at Tyrone S. Woods and North Bend, a runner-up finish at her home tournament, and a fifth at the prestigious Kelso Invitational. 

Gracianna Strickland, So., Hillsboro

Strickland also qualified for state as a freshman and started this season 10-1 despite battling a lingering illness and injury, with a runner-up finish at the Battle for the Capital and a victory at Liberty. It was at the Liberty tournament where Spartans coach Ralph Medina watched her hit a move she had never tried during a match before. “Her understanding of wrestling and willingness to try new things is all a coach can ask for,” Medina said. “She is going to be a star in wrestling and is one of the foundations in our room.”

Gus Amerson, Fr., Newberg

The Tigers always seem to have a bevy of talented freshmen enter their program, and the latest is Amerson, who is 20-3 at 138 after taking second at Rose City and winning the Best of the West title. Coach Neil Russo said Amerson has made a smooth transition from youth wrestling to the high school ranks, in large part because “he is unbelievably physical for a freshman and has all the tools technically to compete at this level. He also benefits from a room with plenty of high-powered workout partners who keep him honest every day.” 

Harley Hardison, Fr., Lowell

The 106-pounder is off to a 10-3 start for the Devils, winning the King of the Hill title, taking second at Grants Pass and placing fifth at Culver.

Hazen Johnson, So., Burns

Johnson went 12-12 as a freshman and qualified for the 3A tournament, and he’s well on his way to returning this winter, going 14-5 at 126 in the first six-plus weeks, finishing second at Rollin Schimmel and fourth at Adrian Irwin. 

Henry Dillingham, So., West Linn

Dillingham returned from a broken hand toward the end of his freshman season, finishing 7-3 and qualifying for the Class 6A state tournament. He’s bulked up to 126 this winter and gone 16-5, placing ninth at Tyrone S. Woods and fourth at Rose City before winning the Kelso Invite title. “Man, it was difficult to keep him off the mat last year, even with a cast on,” said Lions coach Doug Samarron. “This season, he’s been injury-free and has become a force to reckon with. He’s a buzzsaw with a lot of higher-level technique and skill. He’s definitely proving to me and others that he’s a potential state placer.”

Holton Halstead, Fr., Thurston

Colts coach Mike Simons believes “the sky's the limit” for Halstead, who went 13-7 and finished sixth at 160 at Rose City to start his career. “He has all the tools to be a great one,” Simons said. “He is very talented and dedicated to the sport. He puts in a lot of time in and out of the practice room and really loves wrestling.” 

Isabel Morgan, Fr., Stayton

Morgan started her career with a sixth-place finish at Perry Burlison and a title at North Bend at 115 pounds. 

Jackson Doman, Fr., Canby

Doman has lost only twice during his freshman season at 170, placing third at the Rick Herrin Holiday tournament and reaching the final at the MHS Your Space Storage Invite.

Jacob Smith, So., Newberg

Smith was Newberg’s “odd man out,” as coach Neil Russo described him, during his freshman season, when the Tigers’ depth at the lower weights eventually led him to wrestle at 120 in the postseason, where he lost to teammate Ethan Ritchie in the district final and went 2-2 at state. He picked up where he left off this winter, going 19-3 with a runner-up finish at Rose City and a third at Best of the West. He and brother Brandon are two-thirds of a set of triplets, and as identical twins, Russo has stopped trying to tell them apart. “For some time, they wore different colored shoes, but they don’t even do that anymore,” Russo said. “I think they like messing with me. When they have questions or talk to me, they are greeted with my standard question — ‘Which one are you?’ I assume they are being honest when they answer.” 

Jake Stutesman, So., Thurston

Stutesman is a late bloomer on the mat, but as Colts coach Mike Simons pointed out, “everything is coming together for him this season.” He went 19-10 in the first six weeks, placing fourth at Perry Burlison and fifth at Rose City. His height and strength throw opponents off, Simons said, adding that “he is another wrestler who has put in a lot of horse on the mat, and it is paying off.”

Jaysen Rodriguez, Fr., Hermiston

Rodriguez started his prep career with a bang, winning the 126 title at Edmonds, and has kept going strong with fourth-place finishes at Muilenburg and Tri-State as part of a 20-6 season. 

Jennifer Russell, Fr., Corvallis

The Spartans have never qualified a girl for the state wrestling championships, but Russell has a good chance at becoming the first. She started the season 8-1 at 115, placing third at the Battle for the Capital and winning the Van Holstad Invite.

Joel Sissel, Fr., Siuslaw

Sissel moved up to varsity just after winter break and already has amassed a 14-5 record at 170, with third-place finishes at King of the Hill and Nick Lutz among his accomplishments. 

Joseph Downing, So., Redmond

Downing has shown himself as a force on the mat over his two seasons, qualifying for state as a freshman with a 10-4 record and coming back this winter to start the season 18-8 at 152, including a first-place finish at Liberty, a runner-up at Tyrone S. Woods and fourth at North Bend. “Joey is a character who’s always trying to get a laugh,” said Panthers coach Kris Davis. “But he knows when to work. He will only get better as he gets stronger.” 

Joseph Johnson, Fr., Dallas

Johnson is one of the young talents coming through the Dragons program. The 113-pounder was 12-8 through six weeks, including a fourth-place finish at Rose City and a third at Liberty.

Kailea Takahashi, Fr., Forest Grove

Takahashi is the daughter of Vikings coach Guy Takahashi and sister of state champion Makaila who is out for wrestling for the first time after a lifetime spent around the sport. Her father marvels at how “she is picking it up at an incredible pace,” starting the season 9-1 with a title at 125 pounds at Warrenton. Kailea also started at center back for the semifinalist soccer team and will play catcher and shortstop for the softball team. “As a freshman, she will make mistakes but continue to grow and get better with each competition,” Guy said. “You will see her compete at a high level in the years to come.” 

Kale Cornell, Fr., Burns

Cornell has had quite the start to his career with the Hilanders, going 21-4 at 120 with three tournament titles (Adrian Irwin, Muilenburg, Rollin Schimmel), a third-place finish at Central Oregon Officials, and a quarterfinal berth at Rollie Lane.

Kanoe Kelly, So., Thurston

Kelly was a district runner-up as a freshman and has made significant progress this winter, starting 17-4 with a third-place finish at Perry Burlison and reaching the 106 final at Rose City. “KJ is a very fast-paced wrestler who has worked very hard during the offseason to develop his wrestling skills,” said Colts coach Mike Simons. “He will accomplish great things in the future.”

Katelyn Wiseman, Fr., Riverside

Wiseman started the season with a victory at the Enterprise Kickoff with the boys team, then wrestled at 120 at the Culver Girls Tournament and placed third.

Kennedy Blanton, Fr., Forest Grove

Blanton is another fast-developing freshman who has the Vikings on the shortlist of title contenders. She is 11-1 wrestling at 130 and 135, finishing third at Battle for the Capital and winning the Warrenton title. “She has been wrestling for many years now and has high expectations of doing well this year,” said coach Guy Takahashi. “She is very aggressive and wants to be the best. She has jumped in with training with two returning state placers and a state champion, which has helped her dramatically improve.”

Kristal Zamora, Fr., Thurston

Zamora announced her presence on a loaded Thurston girls roster by winning the 135 title at Perry Burlison as part of an 8-2 start to her career. “She is always one of the hardest workers in our room and has a strong passion for the sport,” coach Mike Simons said. “She is pretty much a year-round wrestler, and her dedication is paying off. My prediction is that she is a multiple-time state champion before she is done.”

Landon Lavey, Fr., Crook County

Lavey, a 113-pounder, has a couple of titles under his belt (Perry Burlison and North Bend) and recently placed fifth at the high-powered Rollie Lane Invitational in Idaho as part of a 17-3 start. 

Landyn Philpott, Fr., La Pine

The 113-pounder reached the final of his first three tournaments, winning at Culver and taking second at the Central Oregon Officials and Adrian Irwin meets. He also reached the consolation quarterfinals at Rollie Lane. Philpott and Hawks teammate Riley Flack used to wrestle each other in youth wrestling going back to age 5, when they placed fourth and sixth at Reno Worlds in the 6U division. “Now, they’re on the same team,” said Riley’s father and La Pine coach Aaron Flack. “That’s a pretty cool thing.” 

Lindson Turner, Fr., Ashland

Turner’s only defeat during his first high school season came in the final of the North Bend tournament. The 126-pounder has since won titles at Dan Vidlak, Grants Pass and Eagle Point to start his career 17-1. 

Logan Sunnell, Fr., Tualatin

Sunnell grew up in the sport — his father, Gabe, is the head coach of the Tualatin Wolfpack youth club — and he’s put that experience to good use in his first high school season, going 11-3 at 152 with a third-place finish at Liberty. 

Luke Cheek, Fr., Harrisburg

Eagles coach Desmond Bennett didn’t think he’d see Cheek enter his wrestling room watching him as a seventh-grader. “He might have been the best basketball player in his grade back then,” Bennett recalled. However, with the encouragement of his dad, Tim (also Harrisburg’s cross country coach), and the middle-school wrestling coaches, Cheek chose wrestling, and he’s off to an 18-5 start, with a title at Devon Dawson and podium finishes at North Bend (fourth), Adrian Irwin (third) and Pape Linn County (third). He also has wins over three wrestlers who finished in the top three at June’s Class 3A state meet.