By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Outlasting the competition

Wrestlers are attuned to their body, perhaps more than any other athlete in any sport. The body is their instrument of destruction, their only weapon for submitting an opponent. Take care of it and it will take care of you.

McMinnville senior J.T. Barnes has had his share of aches and pains, but he shook them off. It comes with the territory. And it’s not like it stopped him much in-season, anyway.

“I’ve been walking around with a bad (right) knee for two years now,” Barnes says. “It hurts when I warm up and it hurts when I practice but as soon as I step on the mat, it’s different.”

As he worked his way through wrestlers at the 152- and 160-pound weight classes, on his way toward the highest accomplishment of the high school season, a cough bothered him. That bothered Barnes. He doesn’t get a cough. Either way, he was ready. It was his time.

The ability of Barnes, the News-Register’s All-Valley Wrestler of the Year for 2013, to push himself to his limits earned him the admiration of his peers and the dismay of his opponents. Barnes capped off one of the best wrestling seasons in McMinnville High School history with a 39-1 overall record and a state championship at 152 pounds, mixing skill and strength in a lethal combination for his opponents to adjust to.

Barnes’ talent for the sport is obvious, but the self-recognition – and self-improvement – came over time.

“When I started wrestling, and even my freshman year, I never thought that I’d place at the state tournament,” he says. “My sophomore year, I moved up five or six weight classes and I realized that I had a lot of potential.

“I wanted to be a state champion. That was my one big goal I needed to check off.”

Barnes rolled to the 152-pound crown at the Class 6A Special District 3 championships to qualify for state, and he also immersed himself in video. He watched Alex Hada of Hillsboro defeat him, 9-7, in a match at the Brett Hauer Hilhi Invitational, his only loss of the season. He watched the state championship match of his former teammate Tiger Paasch, the Class 6A 170-pound champion in 2013.

“Tiger had lost to that kid once or twice during the year, but he was definitely overconfident,” Barnes says. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the favorite for the state championship but I was going to be a heavy favorite and I needed to make sure that I didn’t get too overconfident going into any of my matches.”

In the OSAA Class 6A State Wrestling Championships, held March 1-2 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Barnes was aggressive early. He pinned Austin Hutchins of Roseburg in 1 minute, 33 seconds and won an 8-2 decision over Joseph Knight of Barlow in the quarterfinals.

That led to an anticipated semifinal match against Kjell Thorsen of Grants Pass, whom Barnes eyed as a likely title favorite. It was Barnes who walked off the mat into the championship match, pinning Thorsen in 3:46.

“I didn’t really care who I was going against in the finals after the Grants Pass kid because I knew my offense was going to win out,” Barnes says.

In the final against Roseburg’s David Harker, Barnes was relentless. The first period went scoreless, but Barnes kept his attacks and attempted to secure Harker in a cradle. Harker effectively resisted, but at the final whistle Barnes had won an 11-4 decision.

“Hearing that whistle and knowing that it was over and I’d done it was a great feeling,” he says. “You can believe in yourself all you want but until you reach the point where it’s over, it’s done, you won the match, you don’t really know how great it feels to accomplish your goals. The hard work has paid off. You didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t screw up.

“It was an amazing feeling. Absolutely incredible.”

In the couple days after Barnes won the title, that sickening feeling came back, and he visited a doctor. It was there that he learned that he had wrestled the last two weeks of his season with pneumonia.

“I wrestled at regionals and I felt fine,” Barnes says. “I wrestled at state and I felt good at state.

"I don’t know how I didn’t notice. I guess I didn’t care how I felt going into the state tournament because I can fight through stuff like that. I can fight through physical pain. Especially when it matters. I thought I had no clue.”

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