Spartans dominate the competition at their own tourney

It’s always nice to win your own invitational.

That is exactly what the Hillsboro wrestling team did on Saturday. Propelled by the strength four individual championships, the Spartans cruised to victory at the Bretthauer Oil Hilhi Invite at Hillsboro High School. The home team rang up 348 points to best a 10-school field that included city rival Glencoe.

Springfield’s Thurston finished second with 235 points, followed by Lebanon (232½), Henley of Grants Pass (213½) and the Crimson Tide (163½).

The event gave Hilhi coach Adam Reese a valuable look at his team’s big-meet capabilities heading into the heart of the season.

“It was nice. It was really good to showcase,” Reese said. “I think I said earlier that I knew we were going to be a good dual meet team, but I didn’t know individual-wise how we’d do.”

Reese is likely starting to get an idea now, especially after a total of 15 of his wrestlers finished in the top six of their respective weight classes to earn place-winner designation.

Leading the way for the Spartans was Alex Hada, who was voted the most outstanding wrestler of the meet among the upper weight classes.

“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it, truly,” Hada said about the honor. “I did pretty good, but I think there was a lot of other guys on the team as well and other guys from other teams who did pretty good, too. So it was actually quite a surprise for me. When they started calling my name, I was like, ‘What?’”

Seeded second at 152 pounds, the senior won his first two matches by fall before besting third-seeded Anthony Lambert of Glencoe with a 6-3 semifinal decision.

In the final, Hada came from behind to upset the top seed, McMinnville’s J.T. Barnes, by a 9-7 decision. A quality opponent, Barnes was a Class 6A state finalist at 152 pounds in 2013. And in Saturday’s final, Reese said, Barnes took a 5-0 lead before Hada rallied for the victory.

A senior, Hada is one of a number of Spartans who entered this season with state meet experience. He still has some unfinished business though. After entering the 2013 state meet as the fourth seed at 145 pounds, Hada was eliminated in the consolation round at the state meet and did not place.

This year he dreams of adding his name in red to the wall in the Spartans’ mat room that bears the lengthy list of the program’s state place-winners. Red designates state champions.

“You can always notice those guys over everyone else,” Hada said. “That’s what I’m dreaming for. I want to end my senior year on a high note and try to win state. I’m going to try my hardest to win state.”

Hilhi’s other three champions were Joey Rodriguez at 126 pounds, T.J. Cavender at 182 and Ben Kociemba at 195. Cavendar beat teammate Isaac Nakamoto in the final.

Like Hada, Rodriuguez is putting together a quality season. The senior, third at 120 pounds at state last year, had just one loss this season heading into a dual meet against Forest Grove on Wednesday. (Results of that match were not available at press deadline.) On Saturday, he pinned three of his four opponents, including second seed Quinton Hook of Henley in the final.

The rest of the Spartans’ place-winners on Saturday were Riggo Saenz-Rodriguez and Payton Bell, second and fourth at 106 pounds, respectively; Ruben Rodriguez-Saenz, third at 113; Matt Peterson, second at 120; Andy Downer, second at 138; Hunter Morse, second at 170; Eduardo Casas and Tony Jesko, third and fourth at 220; and John Rodriguez and Nick Beede, third and sixth at 285.

In all, the tournament was solid preparation for this weekend, when Hilhi travels to Redmond for the Oregon Wrestling Classic. The Classic annually draws many of the top teams in the state in each classification, and it is considered the unofficial dual meet state championship.

“The Classic is just about my favorite tournament,” Reese said. “I believe wrestling is a team sport, and so it’s nice to go showcase your team in dual meets. They really try to do a good job of getting the 16 best teams there.”

The Spartans kick off the Classic today with round robin action. The team was placed in a tough pool — something Reese actually helped out with, he said, as the meet’s Class 6A representative — with Lake Oswego, perennial state power Newberg and Thurston, Saturday’s runner-up to the Spartans at the Bretthauer Invite.

The top two teams from each of the four pools advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal round. Winners keep advancing, and the Class 6A championship match is scheduled at 6:15 p.m.

For Hilhi, the Classic is one more step in a season that has been successful but is far from over.

“Everyone’s been working harder,” Joey Rodriguez said. “They’re more focused into it. They want to win state.”

As for Glencoe, on Saturday the Crimson Tide may not have had the same depth in the top of the standings, but they still had plenty of success in their own right.

Both top seeds in their respective brackets, Ian Stettler and Nate Johnson won individual titles to lead a group of six Tide wrestlers who placed in the meet. Stettler eked out a 7-5 decision against the Spartans’ Saenz-Rodgriguez at 106 pounds, while Johnson topped Hilhi’s Peterson 9-3 in the 120-pound final.

Glencoe’s other place-winners were Kody Chun, fourth at 126; Tony Lucas and Hunter Ashenbrenner, fourth and sixth at 132, respectively; Casey Ray, fourth at 145; and Lambert, who wound up third in the 152-pound bracket after getting turned back by Hada in the semifinal round.

The Tide are now off until next Friday and Saturday, when they will participate in the Reser’s Tournament of Champions at Liberty High School.

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