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By René Ferrán 

Entering the OSAA wrestling state championships, the Class 4A meet figured to be one of the closest competitions

And for most of Friday, the top three teams — Crook County, Sweet Home and La Grande — were tightly bunched in the standings. 

Then, the medal rounds began, and that’s when the defending champion Tigers started to assert themselves.

Crook County had more qualifiers and topped La Grande at the district tournament a week ago, but on this night at Portland's Memorial Coliseum, it was the Tigers who roared loudest.

Three of their six finalists had their hands raised as champions, and they had a meet-high 14 wrestlers make the podium as they pulled out a 45.5-point victory over Sweet Home. 

“They wrestled with a lot of heart today,” said Tigers coach Klel Carson, whose team has won three of the past four 4A titles since ending a 24-year drought in 2020.

“We had a lot of guys beat guys who they weren’t supposed to. They just got on a roll, and it really made a difference.”

La Grande wrestling 2023 2

Carson also said the change in the tournament schedule necessitated by the snowstorm that brought Portland to a standstill midweek helped his team’s cause.

“We’ve done a lot of tough tournaments throughout the year to prepare them — Tri-State, Reser’s, Red Halverson,” he said. “So, I felt like it was a real advantage for us, actually, to have a one-day tournament

“We started having some of those matches going our way, beating kids that we weren’t supposed to beat, and once that started to happen, you just get on that roll, and they start feeding off each other. That’s how wrestling works sometimes. It just built momentum throughout the day.”

Among those surprise medalists were freshman 106-pounder Bragen Anderson, who finished fourth at the district meet last week. He lost to top seed (and eventual champion) Bryce Haltiner in Round 1 but battled through the consolation bracket to place third.

Another was unseeded sophomore 220-pounder Kenai Huff, who knocked off three seeded wrestlers to reach the final before losing to another unseeded wrestler, Henley senior Matthew McCoy. 

“That’s one of the best things about this team,” Carson said. “In 2020, we had a really solid varsity lineup that took second at Reser’s, but our JV kids were 20th place. But this year, we were third by a couple of points, and we didn’t have (Wyatt) Livingston or (Jaxson) Leonard, but our JVs were second.

“So, a lot of the season, we didn’t have all our guys able to be in the lineup, and other guys stepped right in, and they just picked up the momentum for everybody else.”

Sweet Home has been runner-up to La Grande in each of the Tigers’ title runs over the past four years, and the Huskies edged Crook County for second by 23.5 points, with Scappoose earning its first trophy since 2015 by finishing fourth.

Meet the champions: Class 4A | Class 3A | Class 2A/1A | Class 4A/3A/2A/1A Girls

Photos from 4A, 3A, 2A/1A, 4A/3A/2A/1A Girls state championship matches

Wrestlers to watch at state: Freshmen | Sophomores | Juniors | Seniors

Previewing the state meets: 6A | 5A | 4A | 3A | 2A/1A | 6A/5A Girls | 4A/3A/2A/1A Girls

Recapping the district meets: 6A | 5A | 4A | 3A | 2A/1A | Girls

COMPLETE COVERAGE OF 2023 OSAA WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS