A long two days at state well worth it
I don’t think I’ve ever quite experienced something like what I did over the weekend at the OSAA state wrestling championships in Portland at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
I covered 133 wrestling matches for 38 local wrestlers Friday and Saturday, wrote about eight individual state champions and spent endless hours looking over mat assignments, brackets and matchups. Add in the other matches I watched while waiting and I wouldn’t be surprised if my final tally for the weekend was over 200.
Through all the sitting on the cement floor of the Coliseum and the combined 24 hours I spent wandering the building, I witnessed some magical moments. The first was McMinnville senior Jared Sublet winning the Grizzlies’ first state championship in 26 years at 132 pounds. Sublet also became coach Shawn Keinonen’s first state champion. The second moment came an hour and fifteen minutes later when McMinnville 170-pound wrestler Tiger Paasch pinned Tyler Chay of West Linn to win Mac’s second state title of the evening.
The wrestling state meet is a great meet because there are so many storylines. Each individual has his own story about his journey to state. Take the Grizzlies, for example. When Keinonen took over in 2008, Mac wrestling was mediocre at best. It had been 21 years since a state champion had wrestled in McMinnville. Keinonen, a Newberg graduate, was used to absurd levels of success. The Tigers dominated Mac in dual meets and every year won multiple individual championships and always contended for the team title.
Paasch was in middle school when he started wrestling. Keinonen’s youth program consisted of Paasch, J.T. Barnes — who finished second Saturday at state — and Barnes’ little brother, Brian.
“They’ve burned up summers wrestling,” Keinonen said. “They’ve burned up countless hours in that wrestling room. Torturous workouts. It’s awesome. Just flat ass awesome.”
Sublet came a year or two later and eventually bought in to what Keinonen was teaching.
“There’s no way I could have envisioned this,” Sublet said of winning a state championship. “I bought into everything (Shawn) told me,” Sublet said. “I did everything he told me until I got here, the highest level in the state.”
Saturday was special because they finally saw tangible results of Keinonen’s vision for Mac.
“Hard work and dedication pay off,” Paasch said. “That’s what our coach has done. It’s amazing what he’s pulled off. It started with three wrestlers and it formed to two state champs.
“I feel like I’ve been a part of something real special with this program,” Barnes said.
Barnes was optimistic after his loss in the 132-pound finals. He’s a junior and has one more crack at winning his title.
Keinonen, Paasch and Sublet all expressed hopes that Mac’s fifth-place finish Saturday at state will increase interest from young wrestlers in McMinnville. Keinonen said getting a few state champs would pump things up, though the Grizzlies still aren’t on a level with Newberg.
“Fifth place,” Keinonen said. “Back when I was in high school, we probably would have practiced when we got back to the school.”
But it’s all about perspective.
“We feel very good about what we did this year,” he said. years to come.”