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Harrisburg’s 3A wrestling title a product of improved work ethic: ‘They want to get better every day’

“We all grew up. We just had a harder practice room this year. We all had that goal in the back of our head all the time.”

All throughout the week before the OSAA wrestling state championships, Harrisburg coach Desmond Bennett talked about the changes going on in the room. 

“We talk frequently about how we are all different people from a year ago, better people,” Bennett said Wednesday, one day before the Class 3A tournament began at Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

“The kids want to be in the wrestling room. They want to get better every day. They want to be coached. This hasn’t been the case for everyone in seasons past, and their belief that we are the best team in the state gives me confidence that we will get it done this weekend.”

Then, the Eagles went out and backed up Bennett’s words. They dominated the field as only one other team in tournament history has surpassed, posting the second-highest point total and second-largest margin of victory in winning the program’s first state championship.

“It feels pretty good to be a three-time state champion,” junior Luke Cheek said after moving one step closer to becoming the program’s second four-time champion with a first-round pin in the 120-pound final. “But this year, I had a much bigger goal beyond being an individual state champ. My main goal was the team championship.

“My goal the whole year was to perform for my team and not just for myself, perform for my team so we can have this for the first time in school history.”

Harrisburg wrestling 2024 Rene Ferran

Cheek also noticed a difference in the room and credited Bennett for helping the team grow and mature over the past 12 months since the Eagles matched their best previous finish by placing third.

“We all grew up,” he said. “We just had a harder practice room this year. We all had that goal in the back of our head all the time. It was right there, and when we’re drilling, we’re thinking about it, being state champs all year. It feels great.”

Cheek was one of three Eagles to win titles Friday night, joined by freshman Andrei Donayri (106) and two-time champion Brody Buzzard (165), a sophomore who also has an eye on becoming a four-timer. Harrisburg put 15 of its 17 qualifiers on the podium and scored 285 points, swamping runner-up Burns’ 155 total.

Only Nyssa (287 points) in 2017 has scored more points in a 3A meet, and only Burns’ 138-point victory in 2007 was by a larger margin.

The Hilanders also had three champions, two of whom are juniors who will go for a fourth title next year — Kale Cornell (126) and Easton Kemper (175) — along with Kemper’s younger brother Cannon at 150.

Banks, which posted its best finish since 2003 by placing third, had two champions — Owen Turner at 132 and two-timer Mishael Mauck at 190.

La Pine, which won back-to-back titles in 2022-23, finished fourth, also having a couple of juniors — Landyn Philpott (138) and Devon Kerr (144) — win their third titles. Junior Riley Flack won his first.

Elmira senior Brett Highburger won his second 285 title in a rematch with Corbett’s Carl Orchard of last year’s final. 

Nyssa senior Ashton Wilson, who knocked off 157 top seed Devin Martin of Harrisburg in the semifinals, and Warrenton junior Kaison Smith (215) were first-time champions.

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