With one champion, one runner-up and six placers overall at the North Bend Coast Classic, North Medford’s wrestling team had plenty to be proud of as it returned home Saturday night.
As a payoff for all the hard work, the Black Tornado also finished fourth overall at the 33rd annual event that featured many of the top programs in the state.
“Fourth for us, that’s the highest since I’ve been here,” said North Medford wrestling coach Phillip Lopez. “To me, anytime you finish top 10 in that tournament that’s kind of a gauge of how your season is going to go. You had two state championship teams (in top-two finishers Crook County and Roseburg) and a team like Crescent Valley that was third and is right there behind Crook County (at the 5A level). There were some studs out there.”
Leading the charge for North Medford was senior Jullian Stone, who secured his team’s lone championship at 220 pounds after earning a 3-2 overtime decision via ultimate tiebreaker. Stone was a repeat champion at the event, along with Cascade Christian 120-pounder Gabe Vidlak.
“The Coast Classic is one of the tougher tournaments in Oregon,” Stone said Monday, “and to win it was pretty cool. I went through a couple tough matches; all the kids I had to wrestle were all pretty tough I think.”
With sophomore Alex Silva taking second at 106 and North Medford also getting placing efforts from Andres Ramirez (fourth, 160), Cole Zoller (fifth, 145), Thomas Hamilton (fifth, 170) and Enrique Jaime (sixth, 132), Stone said it was exciting to see the Black Tornado fare so well this early in the season.
Creating even more optimism is the fact that North Medford also placed third in the junior varsity portion of the tournament — again its highest finish in recent memory — and still hasn’t been able to settle its lineup in as wrestlers go through their required weight descent.
“I’m more impressed with the JV bracket guys than the varsity, to be honest,” said Lopez.
Added Stone: “When all of us get to wrestle in the same tournament and score points together, we’re going to come together so much better. We’re just building and building. We look better every single time we practice.”
Well, maybe not this week. Lopez said nine wrestlers are already confirmed to be battling the flu, and even the coach has been bitten by the flu bug. That should make Thursday’s home dual against Marshfield an interesting one, but nothing was dampening the Tornado’s spirit coming off its big weekend.
“I’m really confident in my team that we can do anything, we just have to put our mind to it and not ever get nervous or anything,” said Stone. “I think that physically with everything we’re good, we just have to fix our mindsets, every single one of us, and get better and know that we can be the best. I think this team has a lot of potential, everybody just needs to find themselves throughout the season for district and state.”
Stone found himself in a familiar position last Saturday in the championship finals against North Salem junior Antonio Garcia. Stone had gotten to that point with a 60-second fall, an 11-3 major decision and a 6-2 decision, but the last match had a decidedly defensive feel. Neither wrestler was able to gain much of an advantage, with a lot of hand-fighting in the middle of the mat but few dangerous positions.
“The guy Jullian wrestled in the finals was a pretty athletic kid and taller kid,” said Lopez of Garcia. “He just knew how to wrestle. They were hand-fighting hard, no one was really getting to the ties they wanted to score. Every time they got close to where Jullian wanted, they ended up going out of bounds.”
Stone pushed the pressure as much as he could, drawing a stalling warning for Garcia in the first period. The North standout scored first on an escape in the second period, and Garcia answered likewise in the third period to force an overtime. Neither wrestler scored in the first one-minute overtime, and each scored an escape in the ensuing 30-second OT sessions.
With Stone scoring first in the match, he had the option to choose the top or bottom position for the ultimate tiebreaker and naturally chose to be down. As he was trying to earn his escape, Stone twisted his ankle pretty severely but stayed with it long enough to draw another stalling call against Garcia, which decided the match for a 3-2 win.
“It wasn’t how I wanted to win but getting the win is still a win,” said Stone, “and winning the Coast Classic is a really good feeling.”
Being put in that position was nothing new to Stone, who has a history of cautious, close matches that go down to the wire or into overtime.
“I’ve wrestled a lot of close matches,” said Stone, “so I don’t really feel the pressure anymore when it’s 1-1 going into the third period or going into overtime because I do think that I’ll win no matter what because I can go the distance. It doesn’t really stress me out anymore, I just have to wrestle my match every time I go out there.”
Similarly, such nail-biters don’t really affect Lopez in the coach’s chair.
“As matches move on it starts favoring Jullian big time because he’s shorter and those other guys have to bend down to his level,” said the coach. “As long as he pushes the pace forward, we’re always in that good position. Every single match he gets a stall call so it tells you that he’s not the guy going back.”
“Jullian was blessed with great strength and stamina and, being shorter, he’s already low so a lot of it is just being patient and waiting and when things come you way, take it and not force it if it isn’t there.”
The strategy wasn’t necessarily the same for Silva, who reached his championship final by virtue of three falls and only one match that reached the third period. The sophomore ran into a buzzsaw in the finals in Crescent Valley freshman Gabe Wisenhunt, who scored four falls to win and never even saw the second half of the second period.
“That kid was the real deal in the finals,” said Lopez.
Coming off a debut season in which he wrestled at 106 while extremely undersized, Silva is now right at 106 pounds and is starting to reap the benefits.
“The kid’s a little stud,” said Lopez. “He was 88 pounds last year so as the season goes on he’s going to realize that he’s a good-sized 106 pounder. I just think it’s a confidence thing for him but he has all the tools to be right up there at state if he lets himself go, but that’s a process. All through his growing up he’s always been the undersized kid and this is the first time he’s actually the bigger kid. It’s just about changing his mindset because he’s always been strong and had good shot selection, now it’s just about being the guy.”
That feeling is one that Lopez hopes filters throughout the squad, especially as the lineup settles in after currently having seven wrestlers stuck at 145 pounds as they follow their weight plan.
“We’re not even close to where these guys are supposed to be,” said Lopez, “but I think we will match up pretty well once we get all the state qualifier guys back where they want to be.”
“I think if these guys are in the right weights and they decide they want to win it all, they can,” he added. “I’m not that kind of guy that predicts things but I honestly feel like we have a good enough talent level that if these guys truly decide they want to get it done as a unit, we can get it done.”